Introduction

Engineering Physics is an amalgam of physics, mathematics and electrical engineering courses. The program at IIT-Bombay emphasizes on making students familiar with basic knowledge of physics along with a good background in engineering disciplines. It is closer to the basic sciences than most of the other engineering departments.

What is engineering physics all about?

The curriculum has a number of courses which introduce you to a wide variety of fields in pure Physics and applied Physics. The core courses cover basic areas such as classical and quantum mechanics, electromagnetic theory, photonics, relativity, and thermodynamics along with introductory courses to the various fields. If you are disposed to move towards mathematics, you have the opportunity to do so, as we are the engineering branch with the most core math courses for UG’s. We do 4 electronics labs and some electrical engineering courses, so if your interests are inclined towards electronics or electrical engineering in general, you could take a minor in Electrical Engineering. Since this programme equips you with several tools of mathematics and statistics, finance has become a lucrative option that is known to be open to our students. The take home message therefore is, that after completing your degree at IITB you are armed with the knowledge to choose whatever you wish to do in future.

Coming to the actual courses, apart from compulsory courses students are also required to take up electives, in which the student has the liberty to choose the course of their own choice, subject to a few guidelines. These electives further allow a student to explore their area of interest with more specialised courses on solid state physics, quantum computing and general theory of relativity to name a few. Laboratory courses cover the basic techniques used in all the fields coupled with a knowledge in electronics which is an essential asset to every experimentalist. The department has necessary state of the art labs. The professors are enthusiastic and approachable and one can go to them for first hand experience in real life research. Engineering Physics, being a (relatively) small department is a close knit community, and seniors are known to be very friendly and helpful. All study but no play makes a physicist a dull person. We have regular department events and semester department trips to beautiful places.

B.Tech + M.Tech Dual Degree with specialization in Nanoscience, and Integrated MSc in Physics

From this year onwards, students will not be able to enroll in the Dual Degree program in EP through JEE, however in their 3rd year, EP B. Tech. students can switch to the Dual Degree program. ‘Nano’ is the current buzzword in research across all the fields. Nano is not just about making things smaller and smaller but also about studying the properties of materials as the size enters a particular regime. At this scale, the properties of materials change drastically and classical theory no longer holds. Behaviour at nanoscale is governed by a set of exciting rules that stem from quantum mechanics and there are countless interesting phenomena and applications to explore.

The Dual Degree students at IIT-B, in addition to courses with B-Tech students for the broad fields mentioned above, do a specific set of courses related to nanoscience. These courses deal with cutting edge research and cover important topics to propel the student towards a career in nanoscience. The courses encompass the basic physics behind the phenomena at nanoscale and specific studies of materials like Graphene and Carbon-nanotubes, their synthesis and the nanofabrication processes. There are labs to give students hands-on experience on nanoscale techniques like Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), X-Ray Diffraction (XRD), Scanning Tunneling Microscopy (STM) etc. This lab is one of the few in India which includes all such advanced equipments for undergraduate students. In their final year, all students do a year-long intensive project as part of their curriculum related to the field of nanoscience.

Since a couple of years now, students also have an option of converting to integrated MSc (total 5 years) in physics in their fourth year on a case-by-case basis, which is aimed at allowing them to specialize in fields other than nanotechnology as well (e.g. HEP, CMP, etc.), provided the student fulfils certain criteria and subject to the availability of supervising professors in that field

Core specializations

The major fields covered in the Engineering Physics programme at IITB are as follows:

High Energy Physics

High Energy Physics (HEP) is the study of some of the most basic questions about the existence of our universe: the nature of the elementary constituents of matter and energy, the interactions between them, and the nature of space and time. We have courses related to both theoretical and experimental aspects of HEP. Theory in HEP involves concepts in nuclear and particle physics with applications of Quantum Mechanics. The experimental part of HEP involves designing and building experiments to detect and identify particles through particle detectors and accelerators. Analysis of data from particle physics experiments also forms a large part of Experimental HEP. The discovery of the Higgs Boson by the LHC at CERN is a perfect example of a combination of Theory and Experiment in HEP. Many of the professors at IITB are collaborators at places like CERN and Fermilab and are involved in some of the world’s largest and most famous experiments.

Condensed Matter Physics

Matter exists in many fascinating forms. Metals, insulators, semiconductors, ferromagnets to name a few common ones and superconductors, topological insulators to name a few exotic ones. Condensed matter physics is the study of various such forms of matter. The department runs various courses on introductory condensed matter physics, statistical physics and quantum mechanics to introduce students to the field. Experimental condensed matter physics deals with experiments on matter to look for new behaviour and then to explain it. Condensed matter physics is also used extensively in the electronic device industry. For those interested in the physics aspect of the semiconductor and electronic industry, we work on electron transport in novel materials (Graphene, thin films), from quantum dots, wires and wells to electron spin dynamics in solid state systems like defects in Diamond and Silicon. At IIT-B, we have strong ongoing research in both theoretical and experimental condensed matter physics. Our department has several well equipped labs for experimental CMP.

Biophysics and Non Linear Dynamics

Soft condensed matter physics has a large overlap with the exciting new field of biophysics, with the goal being to understand universal behaviour shared by all similar systems, using techniques drawn from the physical disciplines of statistical and continuum mechanics. This includes the study of membranes, polymers and various other complex biological systems. Some professors also work collaboratively with the Biosciences and Bioengineering department at IIT Bombay. Non-linear dynamics studies the time evolution of more complex systems where we go beyond the basic first order term. It is used to quickly model non linear dependencies, and these can give surprisingly chaotic or counterintuitive results. It has applications not just in biological physics but also in research areas as diverse as turbulence, population dynamics and finance.

Optics and Photonics

Optics, as the name suggests, deals with study of light. It answers the questions about nature and behaviour of light in various environments and mediums. Photonics is a relatively recent branch of optics which came into being after Laser was invented. In photonics we deal with optical phenomena occurring due to interaction of light with various forms of matter. This leads to many interesting and beautiful phenomena and a great range of applications like fiber-optics, optoelectronics, optical switching etc. It also deals with metamaterials which can lead to revolutionary applications like an invisibility cloak! At IIT-B we have dedicated labs with advanced lasers for experiments in photonics, with intense research being done in theoretical and experimental aspects of both optics and photonics. Visit here for more extensive descriptions : http://www.phy.iitb.ac.in/en/research.

Future Prospects

As mentioned earlier, doors are very much open by the time you graduate from IITB.
  1. Grad School in Physics : The significant number who’ve found a true passion for physics in the four/five years here, end up in some of the top graduate schools in the US or Europe, and go on to work as postdoctoral researchers and eventually respected professors in India and around the world.
  2. Electrical Engineering Core: For those interested in engineering, there’s also the option of working at companies which require a good knowledge of both physics and the engineering background given by our course experience with electrical devices like semiconductors, transistors, FPGAs etc.
  3. Grad School in Applied Physics : One can also do a PhD in Applied Physics which would provide you with more technical knowledge.
  4. Finance and Consulting : In the past, after realizing physics might not be for them, some people have also taken up start-ups, finance and consulting jobs. We are also at an advantage for those jobs which can require math, since in addition to the math courses we do, there is a variety of applied math used in our core courses and electives.

Final Word

At IIT-B, the research in nanoscience is really dynamic and has many facets.To name a few: synthesis of nanoparticles for applications in sensing, solar cells, medical diagnosis; study of graphene and other carbon nanostructures like fullerenes and carbon nanotubes with their applications; studies of quantum dots and their properties. We have the Center for Excellence in Nanoelectronics (CEN) as a central facility at IIT-B, which is one of the best nanofabrication facilities in India.

In conclusion, the Engineering Physics program at IIT Bombay is designed to give students the knowledge, technical expertise and interest to pursue a career in Physics or to take up Research & Development across various fields, and also the intelligence and dedication to do well in any other area, so make your choice wisely!

[1] Here are links to the B. Tech. Curriculum and the DD curriculum.

[2] Here is a facebook post informing people about EP at IIT-B.

Department Alumni

Niladri Chatterji, EP Dual Degree, 2015

I have for the most part worked in the field of computational condensed matter physics, specifically in Quantum Transport through nanoelectronic devices. During this project I applied principles of Quantum Mechanics and Solid State physics to simulate and design quantum and nanoelectronic devices. This project was cross-disciplinary in nature and stretched across the fields of Electrical engineering, Physics and Information theory gave a flavor of each of these fields. Opportunities to be a part of such multi-disciplinary research is ubiquitous in the Engineering Physics programme and is great choice if you are looking to explore.

Kartik Kothari, EP BTech, 2014

I have found EP to be an excellent blend of physics and engineering elements. The coursework provides ample mathematical rigour needed for someone who is not only looking forward to do research in physics but also to someone who justs love delving into the depth of a problem to explore solutions. in physics and electronics which lend the engineering and experimental element to learning.

For people who love physics and math, there's lot of avenues for you to explore. Ranging from theoretical physics in fields of condensed matter, astrophysics and particle physics to experimental physics in areas like solid state physics, optics and photonics, the EP Program offers a plethora of opportunities in terms of courses, projects and internships to explore your interests and learn more.

In addition to physics courses, the Program also offers courses from other department like Energy Sciences in cutting-edge technological fields like Solar Cells. Overtime, the program has been made increasingly flexible by having electives, and thus allowing a student to navigate and choose their own course through their undergraduate life.

The Physics Department boasts of some of the best as well as the youngest faculty members of the institute thus, combining immense teaching experience with bubbling enthusiasm in research.

Although Physics has been traditionally associated with just research-based careers, the trend has been changing over years. Every year, a lot of students do make it to good analytic firms and investment banks as well. (There are students who opt to choose careers in management, civil services etc. but that is a personal choice.)

On a personal note, I had a great time learning Physics @ IIT-B. I not only met wonderful people but had some great learning opportunities and lessons for life. If one is ready to keep an open mind to explore the mysteries of the universe or apply science principles to solve real-life problems, EP IIT-B is the place!

Arpan Saha, EP Dual Degree, 2014

Four years is simultaneously a very short and a very long time. It is short enough that it is prudent to give due consideration to future prospects in making your decision, and it is long enough that it is equally prudent to give consideration to whether you'll enjoy the major you choose. The latter of course is highly dependent on your personal inclinations, but if you are the sort who doesn't find themselves miserable surrounded by people who are enthusiastic about their chosen area of study, then you'll find Engineering Physics presents no particular dilemma.

Physics, by its very nature, is extremely flexible. Even individual subdisciplines such as high energy physics, condensed matter physics and astrophysics are broad enough to allow you to segue into a diverse range of careers that runs the gamut from academia to industry and finance. Those of my classmates who opted for academia are working on problems as varied as studying gene flow in cells, investigating the migratory patterns of birds and insects, playing around with entanglement in quantum systems, developing insulators that exploit topological nontrivialities in band structures of materials, manipulating pulses of light in interesting ways, figuring out better algorithms for machine learning, using nanotechnology to design energy efficient, building components for particle accelerators, analysing data coming from particle accelerators, understanding the behaviour of esoteric theories of gravity, and much more. It's difficult to know at the age of 18 what kind of problems you'd like to spend the rest of your life working on and it is common (and perhaps even wise) for undergraduates to postpone settling for something concrete until they begin graduate school. All in all, given the enormous flexibility of physics as a whole, chances are you'll find something you like sooner or later.

The Department of Physics welcomes any criticism and suggestions regarding its curriculum from its students. Consequently, over the years, your predecessors have done their best to ensure that incoming batches find their coursework more relevant, more flexible and better paced than them. Provisions for electives will allow you to customise the curriculum to your taste and explore interests in other departments as well. The faculty in the Department are among the friendliest on the campus and will take an active interest in how you're doing long after you graduate. Getting to know them not only as your instructors but also as people can be a rewarding experience and a rich source of sage advice. In fact, the Department allows undergraduates to be Teaching Assistants in the physics courses common to all majors, so chances are you'll find out what it's like on the other end of the classroom sooner than you may think.

Now that I have spent enough time addressing generalities, I will say a few words about my chosen specialisation, which is string theory. Firstly, a disclaimer: string theory is not the wisest of career choices. The field is extremely competitive and is poorly funded. Even if you manage to get into a good graduate programme in string theory, there is no guarantee that there will be a post-doctoral position waiting for you at the other end. In fact, it's the opposite that is more likely to be the case. Of course, you can always go into industry (and many do) but that will inevitably mean doing something completely different, since as far as I am aware, string theory has no direct industrial applications. If you'd still like to give it a shot, read on.

The first thing you'll notice about string theorists is that very few of them work on actual strings. In the forty or so years of its existence, string theory has done much to clarify the structure of things such as gauge theories (which are far-reaching generalisations of electromagnetism), effective field theory descriptions of fluid dynamics, highly entangled systems and so forth. A lot of string theorists work almost exclusively on these related issues which not only have more applications than string theory proper but are easier to tackle, especially since being able to make sufficient progress of core questions requires an extremely, extremely deep understanding of certain mathematical objects. The conclusion to be drawn from all this is that it isn't infeasible to do undergraduate research in string theory. There are are enough questions that are of interest to string theorists that don't require familiarity with string proper beyond a few basics. You will however need to be well-versed with general relativity and field theory techniques, and fortunately there are electives you can take in your second year that cover these. The Department also has many high energy physicists and you can take up reading projects with them to deepen your understanding. String theorists in the Department are, as you would expect, fewer in number, however this is scarcely an issue since the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (about an hour and a half away if you take a train to Mumbai CST from Kanjurmarg) has one of the most prominent string theory groups in the world. It is common for students in the Department to be involved in projects with (not only string theory) groups at TIFR; some even get professors there to be co-advisors for their final year projects.

I will conclude with a few general platitudes that apply to all of physics (and in fact, much of science) but are worth emphasising in case of string theory, since it tends to get disproportionately represented in popular media as a panacea for humanity's collective existential anguish. The ability to delay gratification is absolutely vital. Interesting results are rare, breakthroughs are even rarer. Much of your time will be spent trudging through long calculations that will almost always lead to a dead end. If you understand the value of being confused for extended periods of time and take pleasure in the clarity that comes from knowing why and how an idea won't work, then you'll be perfectly fine. Good luck.

Digvijay Wadekar, EP BTech, 2015

Hi, I’m a first year student at New York University pursuing PhD in physics. In this post, I’ll specifically elucidate my experiences in pursuing research in EP. I feel that the curriculum in EP is quite flexible and provides great opportunities to pursue research in diverse fields in physics. As an example, in the 2015 passing out batch, we have people pursuing graduate studies in neuroscience, pure math, biophysics, applied physics, electrical engineering, condensed matter physics, computer science, high energy physics (string theory) & astrophysics! Along with physics, EP provides exposure to different engineering fields (especially electrical engineering), which is unlike other basic science programs in India.

I feel that the greatest asset at IITB is the exposure that you gain on account of working and interacting with good professors, peers & seniors. There are ample opportunities to work on projects at IIT or other research institutes in India and abroad. There are professors and students in the physics department who frequently collaborate with leading research groups at CERN, LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) etc. The physics department especially offers a lot of freedom in choosing research supervisors. For example, you can even do your final year thesis project under researchers at other departments in IIT, at basic science institutes like Tata Institute for Fundamental Research (TIFR) or even under professors abroad. EP has quite an intensive coursework but at the same time provides flexibility to take up additional advanced courses in a specific field which you find interesting. I’ll try to give an idea about all this from my personal example-

At IIT, I’ve done research on Astrophysics and Particle physics. Right after my 1st year, I could start working on building a cosmic ray detector and a solar radio telescope through the IITB summer research programs. I got an opportunity in my 2nd year summers to do research in theoretical astrophysics at the Dark Cosmology Center in Denmark where I worked on explaining the formation of large scale structure of the universe. I found it immensely intriguing that I could use the concepts in physics that I’ve learnt till now to explain various astronomical phenomena. During the internship I realized that I enjoy doing theoretical research and in my 3rd year, because of the flexible EP curriculum, I could undertake many advanced courses relating to topics like Quantum Electrodynamics, Statistical Mechanics & General Relativity which were needed in my research projects. At the end of my 3rd year, I opted for another internship in astroparticle physics at the University of Oslo in Norway. During my final year I realized that my research interests better overlapped with a professor at TIFR rather than those at the physics department at IIT. The department readily allowed me do my final year thesis in collaboration with the professor at TIFR. I realized that I am fascinated towards both astronomy and theoretical particle physics so I am planning to work in areas at the intersection of cosmology and particle physics in my PhD.

For the prospective students, I’d like to share what Prof. Jayant Naralikar from IUCAA quipped at an International olympiad nurture camp: “JEE physics is like a 100m sprint but research in physics is different, it’ll be a marathon!” Research in physics is different from solving MCQs and involves focusing hard on a particular problem for quite a long period of time. Research is not just about getting big results but you should have fun in the process. If you find physics appealing and enjoy thinking long and hard about problems, then I think you should give EP a shot! Also, keep in mind to shun prejudices about both physics and research in general before entering here and explore the field with an open mind! If you have any questions about all this or want to know more, feel free to shoot me a mail at digvijay.wadekar@nyu.edu