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Random Walks

Random Walks

By Abhigyan Ray
The process of science as a whole seems an interesting but daunting prospect. To explore the intricacies of science, join me for ~60 minutes each week as I indulge in a freewheeling conversation on science and myriad other things with an eclectic set of professors, graduate students, physician-scientists, journal editors, science communicators, ethicists, and anybody who does science! In our Random Walks, we delve deep into the numerous challenges doing science entails and how everyone charts a unique collaborative path through it.
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Embarking on a serendipitous journey of discovery through life and maths with Ashvni Narayanan (LSGNT)
In this episode talk with Ashvni Narayanan, a Graduate Student at the London School of Geometry and Number Theory working under the auspice of Prof. Kevin Buzzard. Ashvni studied Galois representations of elliptic curves during her Master's at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver advised by Prof. Sujatha Ramadorai, and completed a Bachelor's in Mathematics at the Indian Statistical Institute, Bangalore.  Ashvni currently works on formalizing algebraic number theory in a program called Lean. We converse about her incredible random walks through life and science; her terrific mentors who've inspired her; automating mathematical theorem proving: nature of research and collaborations in a (post) pandemic world; taking care of one's mental, physical, and emotional health in academia; the fantastic Hmm podcast she started during the lockdown; and many more things!  Resources to learn about the Xena Project and Lean:
March 7, 2021
Formulating robust models of quantum gravity and egalitarian society with Raghu Mahajan (Stanford)
In the eighteenth episode of Random Walks, I had a fantastic time conversing with Raghu Mahajan, who's currently a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University. Raghu won a Gold Medal at the International Physics Olympiad and went on to start an Undergraduate degree in Computer Science at IIT Delhi before transferring to MIT where he double majored in Mathematics and Physics. Prior to starting his PhD in Theoretical Physics at Stanford University advised by Sean Hartnoll, he completed Part III of the Mathematical Tripos at Cambridge University where he was a Gates-Cambridge Scholar.  Raghu’s research focuses on techniques used for strongly interacting field theories, with a view toward dynamics, holography, and quantum gravity. We indulge in a fascinating conversation about his three inspirational mentors: his father, Prof. Arvind Chauhan and Prof. Vijay Singh; getting taught by legendary professors and scientists at MIT; researching on string theory, black hole information paradox, and his time with the formidable group at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton; majoritarianism; the importance of funding fundamental research and fostering scientific temper in society; the ridiculous notion of science being an apolitical enterprise; and many more things!!
February 28, 2021
Seamlessly traversing the frontiers of science and publishing with Stuart Cantrill (Nature)
In this episode, I talk with Stuart Cantrill, who's the current Chief Editor of Nature Chemistry. Before joining the Nature Publishing Group, Stuart was a Research Associate at UCLA and prior to that, obtained a PhD under the tutelage of Prof. Fraser Stoddart at the University of Birmingham and UCLA, and completed a postdoc with Prof. Bob Grubbs' group at Caltech.  As a chemist, Stuart actively researched in supra supramolecular chemistry, self-assembly processes, and interlocked molecules. We converse about his serendipitous journey in science and academia; working with two terrific mentors, both of whom would go on to win a Nobel Prize for their pioneering research; how no one wants to be an editor and how his own journey to be one came to be; prescient thoughts on scientific publishing; the importance of funding blue-sky research; changes he'd like to retain in the post-pandemic world; and many more things!!
February 19, 2021
Tinkering neural networks and embarking on a journey of cultivated abandon with Shubhendu Trivedi (MIT)
In this episode, I converse with Shubhendu Trivedi, who's currently a Machine Learning Researcher at MIT CSAIL, where he works with Prof. Regina Barzilay and Prof. Tommi Jaakkola as part of the MIT Machine Learning for Pharmaceutical Discovery and Synthesis Consortium (MLPDS). Prior to that he was the NSF sponsored Institute Fellow at Brown University's Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics and completed a PhD on group covariant neural networks at the Toyota Technological Institute at Chicago and the University of Chicago. Shubhendu's research particularly focuses on causal learning and representation learning for graph-structured data, with a particular focus on applications to drug discovery. We talk about his fantastic journey in science, being there at the pivotal moment when the deep learning revolution took off, phenomenal mentors who guided him through academia and life, the unique characteristics of research in academia and industry, dealing with issues of bias and ethics in AI systems, his eclectic reading interests and obsession with collecting books, and many more things!!
February 12, 2021
Automating synthesis and fostering an inclusive future with Lucky Pattanaik (MIT)
In this episode, I converse with Lucky Pattanaik, who's currently a Graduate Student in the Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT. He is actively working on the intersection of AI/ML with chemical synthesis and is jointly advised by the Green and Jensen groups. Before starting grad school, Lucky completed his undergraduate studies in chemical engineering at Ohio State University. Lucky works on the application of machine learning and artificial intelligence to computer-aided synthesis planning. We talk about his fantastic journey in science and life; defining chemical engineering (which is not chemistry!); fascinating research on a modern-day hot topic; phenomenal mentors and research experiences; the influence of drumming and basketball; his active commitment and endeavour to creating a diverse, inclusive, and equitable culture in academia; and many more things!!
February 6, 2021
Pioneering advances in neuroscience of addiction in the era of preprints with Marina Picciotto (Yale)
In this episode, I chat with Prof. Marina Picciotto, the Charles B. G. Murphy Professor of Psychiatry and Professor in the Child Study Center, and the Departments of Neuroscience and of Pharmacology, and the Deputy Director, Kavli Institute for Neuroscience at Yale University. Prof. Picciotto completed a postdoctoral fellowship with Jean-Pierre Changeux in the Laboratory of Molecular Neuroscience at the Institut Pasteur in Paris and earned a Ph.D. in Molecular Neurobiology in the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience at Rockefeller University under Paul Greengard, a future Nobel Laureate.  Prof. Picciotto is a pioneering neuroscientist known for her groundbreaking work on the role of nicotine in addiction, memory, and reward behaviors. She's also the current Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Neuroscience, the field's trademark journal. We talk about her very interesting journey through science, exploring the intricacies and conducting phenomenal research in neuroscience, her terrific mentorship and influence on the field leading a prestigious journal through the era of preprints and digitization, and many more things!!
January 30, 2021
Building resilient models and breaking glass ceilings with Divya Shanmugam (MIT)
In this episode, I chat with Divya Shanmugam, a Graduate Student in the Clinical and Applied Machine Learning Group at MIT CSAIL advised by Prof. John Guttag. Divya completed her undergrad from MIT itself and majored in computer science with a concentration in South Asian studies. She has also interned at Microsoft Research, Borealis AI, D.E. Shaw Research, Counsyl, and Aetion. Divya is currently focused on building machine learning models that are resilient to unreliable data. We talk about her growing up in a family of academics and getting an early initiation into the world of scientific research; delving into the intersection of computation and biology; differing experiences in an industrial and academic research setting; choosing a graduate school lab and project; virtual seminars and conferences; the importance of a humanistic perspective to contextualise advances in computing; diversity and its connection with ensembles; her current eclectic reading list; and many more things!!
January 27, 2021
Trailblazing a musical trail across life and science with Padmini Pillai (MIT)
In this episode, I chat with Dr. Padmini Pillai, an Immunoengineer and CRI Irvington Postdoctoral Fellow in the legendary Langer Lab at MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. Padmini completed her undergrad at Regis College and then worked as a Research Technician in Prof. Charles Serhan's lab at Harvard Medical School before earning her PhD in Immunology at the renowned Iwasaki Lab at Yale. Padmini is also a very accomplished musician who has performed at Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Newport Jazz Festival, singing backup for Grammy Award-winning singer Angelique Kidjo!!   A Delegate to the American Academy of Achievement and a former Convergence Scholar at MIT, Padmini works on designing diverse biomaterial strategies to boost antitumor immunity, resolve chronic inflammatory disease, and elucidate pathways involved in allergic inflammation. We indulge in a terrific conversation on her fascinating journey in science; incredible inspirations like her parents and older brother, themselves accomplished academicians, who fostered her interest in science; fantastic mentors like Bob Langer and Akiko Iwasaki who've guided her along; her groundbreaking research that's on the frontiers of the intersection of engineering and immunology; a life-changing experience during grad school battling a rare and deadly liver disorder, Acute Intermittent Porphyria; deep interest in music, a familial trait, and how it has transformed her as a person and scientist; making science a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive space; and many more things!!
January 23, 2021
Unravelling the secrets of the brain in a collaborative and interdisciplinary manner with Varun Suresh (TIFR)
In this episode, I converse with Varun Suresh, a Graduate Student in the Department of Biological Sciences at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. Varun completed his BS and MS in Biotechnology from Mumbai University, graduating with high honours, and also worked as a Research Fellow in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory at the National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health. A developmental neuroscientist in training at TIFR under Prof. Shubha Tole's auspice, Varun and I touch on a diverse array of topics, right from his deep desire to serve in the defense forces to his serendepitious journey in science guided and supported by terrific mentors and peers, his groundbreaking research during the course of his doctoral studies, making science a more diverse and equitable place whilst encouraging an open and collaborative atmosphere, the great importance of fundamental research, interdisciplinarity and communicating science to the public, and many more things!!
January 20, 2021
Relentlessly espousing reproductive justice and maternal wellbeing with Neel Shah (Harvard Medical School)
In this episode, I talk with Prof. Neel Shah, an Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School, and founding Director of the Delivery Decisions Initiative at Harvard’s Ariadne Labs. Neel completed his undergraduate studies in neuroscience at Brown University and went on to obtain an MD from Brown Medical School along with a Master's in Public Policy from Harvard Kennedy School before completing his Residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Massachusetts General Hospital/Brigham And Women's Hospital. He also serves as an obstetrician-gynecologist and a Harvard Medical faculty physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Prior to joining the Harvard faculty, Neel founded Costs of Care, an NGO that curates insights from clinicians and patients to help delivery systems provide better care. In 2017, he co-founded the March for Moms Association and currently serves on national advisory boards of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Office of Women's Health Research at the National Institutes of Health. As a scientist and social entrepreneur, Neel is a globally recognized expert in designing solutions that improve health care and his pioneering work focuses on partnering with people giving birth to design solutions that enable them to thrive. We indulge in a splendid conversation about his fascinating path in science and medicine; the influence of his terrific mentors and advisors like the legendary Leon Cooper, a Physics Nobel Laureate turned Systems Neuroscientist, and Atul Gawande, a renowned public health expert; Neel's groundbreaking work on maternal wellbeing that lies right at the intersection of reproductive justice, gender equity, and structural racism; coming to terms with Trumpism and the post-truth world; how critical issues related to childbirth like maternal mortality transcend borders; celebrating mothers as mothers themselves; and many more things!!
January 16, 2021
Realising qubits and advocating for an equitable future with Pratiti Deb (UChicago)
In this episode, I chat with Pratiti Deb, a Graduate Student in the Department of Physics at the University of Chicago, working in the group of Prof. David Awschalom. Before coming to UChicago, Pratiti completed her undergrad at Cornell University and has also been working as a Quantum Developer Intern at IBM Quantum.  Pratiti has been actively working on the experimental implementation of qubits through spins in semiconductor defects and chemically synthesized molecular systems. We indulge in a magnificent conversation on quantum computing, her own research interests, her experience as an ethnic immigrant; how bias, discrimination, and racism on basis of gender, caste, and race pervade myriad fields; the false narrative of genius in science and how in reality it's truly collaborative, affirmative action as a tool of empowerment and making science a more diverse and inclusive space for minorities for all hues, and many more things!
January 9, 2021
Revolutionising the frontiers and heralding in the era of Quantum Steampunk with Nicole Yunger Halpern (Harvard)
In this episode, I converse with Dr. Nicole Yunger Halpern, a theoretical physicist and an ITAMP Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Institute for Theoretical Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics (ITAMP). Nicole completed her PhD in 2018 advised by  John Preskill at Caltech and before that, she earned her Masters's at the highly selective Perimeter Scholars International (PSI) program of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and Bachelors at Dartmouth College, where she graduated as a co-valedictorian of her class. Nicole re-envisions 19th-century thermodynamics for 21st-century settings—small, quantum, and far-from-equilibrium contexts—using the mathematical toolkit of quantum information theory. Nicole uses quantum thermodynamics as a new lens through which to view the rest of science and calls her research “Quantum Steampunk,” after the steampunk genre of art and literature that juxtaposes Victorian settings with futuristic technologies. We touch on a wide array of topics, right from her amazing experience at a liberal arts college and the deep influence humanities have had on her scientific persona, the essential nature of interdisciplinarity and collaboration in academia, her terrific mentors who have hugely inspired Nicole and her revolutionary work, her scintillating efforts at science communication through her monthly blog posts, and many more things! Her superb post elucidating the difference between  Quantum Thermodynamics and Quantum Statistical Mechanics -
January 3, 2021
Fighting discrimination and paving an equitable path forward with Julienne LaChance (Princeton)
In this episode, I converse with  Julienne LaChance, a final year doctoral candidate in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University. Prior to coming to Princeton, Julienne worked in NYC as a firmware engineer and programmer at 3D Printing giant MakerBot Industries, and then at General Electric’s Global Research Center, designing jet engines and building tools for other design engineers. She received her undergraduate and master’s degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, whilst working on submarines, helicopters, smart grid optimization and electric vehicles. Julienne's current interests transcend machine learning, computer vision, control and dynamical systems, and collective behaviour in cells. We indulge in a terrific conversation on her interesting journey in science, foraying into Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning at the cusp of the ImageNet led Deep Learning revolution, COVID19 pandemic, and its disruptive impact, her pioneering the fantastic AI4ALL, a summer camp for high school students that targets underrepresented minorities, the great importance of incorporating ethics into AI algorithms to prevent scapegoating racial and ethnic minorities, and many more fascinating things. The ventilator spearheaded by Julienne during the pandemic -
December 30, 2020
Editing genomes while in a quest to unravel the intricacies of life with Pranam Chatterjee (Harvard Medical School)
In this episode, I converse with Pranam Chatterjee, the Carlos M. Varsavsky Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School in the group of the legendary Prof. George Church. He recently completed his Ph.D at the MIT Media Lab with Joseph Jacobson, one of the inventors of the Kindle, and completed his undergrad at MIT double majoring in Computer Science and Molecular Biology after transferring there from Dartmouth where he was studying Religion.  Pranam is currently developing state-of-the-art algorithms and high-throughput experimental screens to interrogate germ cell development whilst utilising the genome-editing tool, CRISPR. We indulge in a fantastically riveting conversation in his quest to study life spiritually and scientifically, the importance of listening to folks on the other side of the aisle, the essential nature of interdisciplinarity and collaboration in academia, how science is built on the shoulder of graduate students and other researchers toiling away without recognition, combating SARS-CoV-2 on the frontlines, the importance of diversity and inclusion, and many more things.
December 24, 2020
Engineering mucus whilst blazing a trail across science with Caroline Werlang (MIT)
In this episode, I talk with Caroline Werlang, a Siebel Scholar and NSF Graduate Research Fellow in the Biogels Lab in the Department of Biological Engineering at MIT. Before coming to MIT, Caroline earned her B.S. in Chemical Engineering at Caltech and spent a year in Switzerland as a Fulbright Fellow at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).   We indulge in a wide ranging conversation about her path to science and academia, fantastic mentors who inspired her, her fascinating work exploring the secret of mucus and microbiome, science as a collaborative enterprise and disputing the notion of genius' revolutionising it, actively combating bias and discrimination in science through terrific endeavours to foster a more welcoming environment for underrepresented groups, and many more things!! The pioneering BEAPP Caroline pioneered at MIT-BE:
December 19, 2020
Breaking new grounds in neurobiology and shattering glass ceilings with Sandhya Koushika (TIFR)
In this episode, I talk to Prof. Sandhya Koushika, a Cellular Neurobiologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai. She is a recipient of the International Early Career Award by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. We talk about her foraying into science and academia, working with C. elegans, her terrific mentors, overcoming personal and professional barriers, negotiating COVID19 by stitching new collaborations and combating pseudoscience, and her inspiring advice to budding scientists.
December 12, 2020
Defying stereotypes and scaling new heights with Bichlien Nguyen (Microsoft Research)
In this episode, I chat with Bichlien Nguyen, a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research in Redmond, Washington, and an affiliate assistant professor at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington. Bichlien's main interests are in developing sustainable infrastructure for datacenters including DNA-based data storage systems and she works in conjunction with the Molecular Information Systems Lab at UW CSE. We talk about her family background as a refugee, battling strong expectations from multiple fronts, life-shaping experiences in undergrad and grad school, fighting stereotypes and biases, influence of incredible mentors, her fascinating research, seamlessly straddling university and industrial academia, her sagacious advice to young and upcoming researchers, and many more things!
December 9, 2020
Computing complexity and tackling biases in academia with Boaz Barak (Harvard)
In this episode, I talk with Prof. Boaz Barak, the Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at Harvard University's John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. We converse about his serendipitous path to the theory of computing after starting to programme on a Commodore 64 in his childhood, his insipid stint in the military, the influence of his cohort and mentors during graduate school, computational complexity, quantum computing, the differing experience of working in a university research lab and industrial research lab, communicating science to the masses, and the great importance of diversity and inclusion in academia. 
December 5, 2020
Crafting a sustainable and equitable future with Priyanka deSouza (MIT)
In this episode, I converse with Priyanka DeSouza, a Research Fellow in the Senseable City Lab, MIT, and a former Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. We talk about her fascinating journey in science, navigating through graduate school and confronting the ubiquitous imposter syndrome, her important work on air quality monitoring and helping mitigate the deadly effects of air pollution, how data colonisation threatens marginalised people, and the concrete steps required to transition to a healthier and sustainable future.
November 28, 2020
Introducing the Random Walks Podcast by Abhigyan Ray, featuring Sagar Shrivastava (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research)
Welcome to Random Walks, a podcast that explores the intricacies of science and the intricate stories of scientists behind it. Join me every week as I indulge in a freewheeling conversation on science and myriad other things with an eclectic set of people who do science. I’m your host, Abhigyan Ray, a Chemical Engineering Undergrad currently exploring the Physics of Life. To introduce the podcast, I'm joined by Sagar Shrivastava, currently a graduate student in the Department of Mathematics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). We discuss the motivation behind the podcast, random walks as a scientific and metaphorical concept, the fascinatingly intricate journey in and through science, and a sense of what and who to come in the podcast.
November 27, 2020