Student Successes

Karna Desai

Ph.D. in Astronomy

What degree are you working toward?

I am a PhD candidate in Astronomy. My research focus is to study Gravitational Instabilities in protoplanetary disks. A protoplanetary disk is a rotating disk of gas around a young star. Most of the material from the disk accretes onto the central star, and some of the material end up forming planets. Understanding the physical processes in such disks help us understand the planet formation process.

Why did you choose graduate school at IU Bloomington?

IU Bloomington is a co-owner of the WIYN Observatory, which hosts a 3.5-meter telescope atop Kitt Peak National Observatory in Southern Arizona. The telescope has world class instruments for astronomical research. There are also state of the art computational resources available for graduate students at IU, including Big Red II – one of the world’s fastest research supercomputers. Outstanding quality of faculty and research facilities attracted me to IU Bloomington.

What academic accomplishment are you most proud of since you’ve been here?
The scientific work I am most proud of is my current investigation of protoplanetary disks and their interaction with multiple objects. We investigate how disks are affected by the presence of a secondary star, or one or more planets. For my research, I analyze results of numerical simulations of such disks performed by CHYMERA, an astrophysical hydrodynamics code developed by the Indiana University Hydrodynamics Group. I use IU supercomputers for my analyses. 

My participation in the science advocacy program "Communicating With Washington" (administrated by the American Astronomical Society (AAS)) was a great learning experience for me. Along with doing scientific research, it is essential for scientists to inform our elected political leadership how federal funding (NASA, NSF, DOE, DOD, and others) impacts our careers and lives of people. Representing the AAS, I discussed the importance of federal funding in astronomical sciences with legislative assistants of seven Indiana Representatives and both Senators during my two-days visit to Washington, DC in November of 2013. This experience gave me a renewed purpose in what I am pursuing.
My continuing participation in the Astronomy Ambassadors Program (a professional development program organized by the American Astronomical Society, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and other organizations involved in education and public outreach) has tremendously helped me in performing  educational and public outreach activities.
What advice do you have for achieving academic success?

It is important to find the root cause of a problem, whenever one is struggling. One may find the solution to be difficult or time consuming, but with this strategy, one is on the right path.

What do you enjoy most about life in Bloomington?

Bloomington is one of the best campus towns in United States. Regardless of where you live in the city, your drive to work won't be longer than about 15 minutes. The green terrain of the city, and nearby state park and national forest are wonderful attractions for a nature lover. Bloomington has a diverse set of cuisines, great music schools with lots of shows, and many trails for walking and biking.