Oxonians Reloaded, l-r: Atharva N Mahajan, Soubhagya Behera, Sidharth Chambocheri Veetil and Atharv S Mahajan

Oxonians Reloaded, l-r: Atharva N Mahajan, Soubhagya Behera, Sidharth Chambocheri Veetil and Atharv S Mahajan

Meet...the Oxonians Reloaded

We meet Atharv S Mahajan, Atharva N Mahajan, Soubhagya Behera and Sidharth Chambocheri Veetil also known as the Oxonians Reloaded who secured first place for the second year running in the UK and Ireland preliminaries of the international theoretical physics competition, PLANCKS...

What are you currently working on?
Atharv: In our coursework this year, we have Thermal Physics, Electromagnetism, Optics and Quantum Mechanics. Working on these topics takes up most of my time. I have also been studying galactic dynamics under Professor James Binney and working on an extended practical analysing simulations of galaxy formation in dark matter halos under Dr Martin Rey. Further, I am also a committee member of the Oxford University Space and Astronomy Society (OUSAS) as a telescope operator.
Atharva: Second year of physics degree is very fun, with study of topics like quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, electrodynamics and much more. It is fun because first year is kind of like a brief recap and extension of stuff we have learnt before, whereas concepts and problems are very new and enjoyable this year.
Soubhagya: In terms of my academic focus within physics, I am presently enrolled in three Part-A modules: Statistical and Thermal Physics, Electromagnetism and Optics, and Quantum Physics to lay a strong foundation in physics. Apart from these, as a Junior Dyson fellow, I am studying galactic dynamics under Professor James Binney, and I am also engaged in an extended project on ‘constraining dark matter with the smallest galaxies’ under Dr Martin Rey. They are exceptionally engaging and offer me invaluable research experience, which I believe will significantly contribute to my future professional pursuits.
Sidharth: In our course we are currently doing Quantum Physics, Electromagnetism and Optics as well as Statistical Physics and Thermodynamics! I am really enjoying this year’s content, especially statistical physics – it’s amazing to see how different approaches to thermodynamics come together, and the partition function still feels like magic.

Describe a typical day 
Atharv: My day usually starts at 9am or 10am depending upon the first lecture. Fortunately, my college is just a 2-minute walk from the department, so I don’t have to leave super early. After two or three lectures, I have lunch back in my college hall, and study in the library or attend a tutorial if scheduled. After this, I have dinner which I usually cook or sometimes go out with friends. The evening varies, depending on looming deadlines for problem sets, I either have a long night working through the problem set, or maybe getting to relax a little. Also, I have OUSAS meetings a couple of times a term, plus some badminton action at the Oubac club-nights to keep me on my toes.
Atharva: I am a night owl, and hence wake up late around 11am/12 noon, after which I usually head to the St Hilda’s library and go through the tasks of the day, or just take up a new fun topic to read up on instead. I usually have tutorials around 3-4 pm, after which I join my friends and hangout with them over dinner/at someone’s room. Around 11pm/midnight, I start making my way back to my accommodation, study for an hour or two (The best ideas always come at 2am, ha!) before calling it a day.
Soubhagya: A typical weekday begins with a struggle to prepare myself for 9am lectures. After a few hours of lectures, I return to college for lunch, followed by engaging discussions on assignments during tutorial sessions. Then, I enjoy a long stroll in the University Parks or catch up with friends. After a refreshing break, I focus on studying and sometimes coding for the extended practical. Finally, I unwind with a movie or animé during dinner – I also slyly carve out a brief window for online gaming in between. Amid these activities, there are busy days with deadlines, such as long assignments in statistical physics, and long but intriguing lab days. On weekends, I spend the day cramming to meet upcoming deadlines, and evenings are well spent in the company of friends or enjoying some solo leisure and cooking.
Sidharth: I am not sure I have a typical day per se, but on average a day – excluding days with full-day labs – would probably include the following: coffee, a late morning study session, lunch with friend(s), afternoon study session in the library with a friend (or a tutorial). Dinner is usually flexible – sometimes it’s with friends, sometimes I just grab a quick bite and relax for a bit (or other stuff, like formals and society events with free food). Then get back to doing more physics. Now that I say this out, it sounds like more work than it actually is so I should include a disclaimer: there’s probably (read: certainly) procrastination spread out across the day – I usually tend to get more done at night! I typically also try and get some sort of physical activity in (usually volleyball, badminton, a gym session or a run) at some point in the day. 

If you had an entire day at your disposal (not at work), what would be your ideal way to spend it?
Atharv: Catching the sunrise from South Parks, brunching at the hall, a lazy afternoon with a book or a good movie, Port-Meadows for the magical sunset, and a night-time stroll around Oxford. That's my dream day off.
Atharva: I usually indulge in reading up about new and fun topics and subjects as a fun side activity, ranging from reading obscure CS algorithms to some random linguistics paper I thought was interesting. Other than that, I visit my friends at other colleges and hang out with them and love to hear what is going on in their colleges.
Soubhagya: I would spend a lot of time in nature, such as University Parks and Port Meadow, or punting with friends. Then, I would enjoy playing cricket, board games, or cards throughout the afternoon, or exploring nearby places. The evening would be well spent preparing and savouring some delicious Indian dinner while exchanging playful banter with friends.
Sidharth: I love doing sports – an ideal day would definitely include a couple hours of volleyball. I would also spend a good amount of time hanging out with my lovely friends, and give family a call. Maybe catch a movie or a football game as well. If the skies are clear at night I would probably also stargaze – I have been doing astronomy for a long time now, but there’s always a special feeling of peace and awe when looking up!

What is your favourite place in Oxford?
Atharv: I love Port Meadow. And you sometimes get to see horses there too!
Atharva: There is a special bench in the Oxford Botanic Garden on the riverside which has a great view of the Magdalen College School grounds and my college St Hilda’s. You will often find me there on a sunny day, just looking at the calming river and enjoying the view.
Soubhagya: As evident from above, it has to be the University Parks. Specifically, it's located deep inside, near the confluence of Marston Brook and the River Cherwell: it presents a beautiful and truly soothing view.
Sidharth: Oriel College’s 3rd quad in summer! There is almost always someone you know around, and it is such lovely vibes paying croquet or just chilling on the grass with friends on a sunny day. 

What discovery would you like to see in your lifetime?
Atharv: If possible, witnessing the confirmation of the Grand Unified Theory.
Soubhagya: There are lots of possibilities, but as a physics enthusiast, I too would like to see the discovery of a successful Grand Unified Theory or, alternatively, unlocking the mysteries surrounding dark matter, dark energy, and antimatter. The realisation of both would be exhilarating.

Plan B: what would you be if you weren’t doing the job you are currently doing? 
Atharva: I would be either studying another STEM subject like Computer Science or Mathematics, or even something more humanities focused subject like linguistics (I love the pattern recognition and problem-solving aspect involved in studying languages).
Sidharth: If there was another universe where I wasn’t doing physics (and was a bit taller), I would love to be a volleyball player. It is such a fun, fast-paced game, and there’s nothing that feels more satisfying than hitting the perfect spike.