August 2015 – Elica Kyoseva

Why do you like Maths? What do you like best about Maths?

I like Maths and Physics, because I find it fascinating that abstract concepts, such as numbers, formulas and equations, are in fact all we need to describe the world around us and to make predictions for its behavior. I do think that the greatest achievement of mankind is the ability to describe pretty much everything–from how planes fly, through what a beautiful rainbow is to how the stars in our universe are formed,–through symbols and equations. And also think that Physics and Math can be fun and one can do pretty amazing tricks with them (check youtube).

What is engineering product development?

Engineering product development is the pillar at SUTD, which is focused on preparing the students for leadership in the conception, design, implementation, and operation of innovative technology-intensive products. These products can be very diverse and find applications in various fields such as electronics, energy, machinery, transportation, and even quantum technologies. The word engineering signals SUTD’s strong commitment to providing our students with a solid technical and scientific knowledge base. This is done by embedding fundamental courses such as Physics and Mathematics in the curriculum for all our students. 

What is a day in your life like?

In a typical day of my life, I split my time between several tasks. I always have some administrative work to get done, which might involve attending teaching meetings, interviewing prospective SUTD students, managing the web page of my research group, or overseeing and planing my grants financial status. This usually takes about 10-20% of my time, and the rest is focused on my main goals — teaching and research. My teaching commitments start a long time before the term actually begins, and I spend several days a week planning and developing the material which I will be teaching during the term. This usually involves slides and problems preparation, as well as exciting hands-on activities, which we really focus on here at SUTD. Finally, a big part of my time is spent to pursue and develop my research interests and projects. This is rather time consuming and it usually takes time to focus and go into depth in the given project if I haven’t worked on it for a day or two. An important part of my time spent on research is also invested in preparing and applying for research grants, which, when successful, provide funding to hire postdocs and phd students, and meet my research goals. 

How do you come up with ideas on what to find out (i.e., what to study)?

That is something that varies from one researcher to another. Some scientists are just naturally very creative and generate many ideas but for the rest the general rule is that you try to push the boundaries of what is already known. For example, when you are already familiar with a field of study you start to notice the missing parts in it, and ask yourself questions like: if this or that parameter was different how would it affect my research findings? And then you focus on trying to answer this question. Another way to get ideas is by reading other people’s papers and then transfer the acquired knowledge, such as a research method or approach, to your particular system. I personally use both of these to come up with ideas.

Do you do experiments? What kind of experiments do you do?

I am lucky to be a theorist and hence, I don’t do any experiments in the lab. This gives me tremendous freedom to travel and not interrupt my work as I can do it from any place in the world. This is probably the best thing of my work! There aren’t many jobs that give such flexibility and science is one of the few! The experiments, which I perform to validate my findings, are all numerical experiments and I run them on software on my computer. Hence, some programming knowledge is necessary for both theorists and experimentalists.

What is a project in your work that you are excited about now?

I recently completed several projects and I am focusing on something new. I am discussing with some collaborators how we can use our methods, which we are very familiar with, in a new way to achieve a cloak of invisibility. How exciting is this? It turns out that an invisible cloak is possible through the careful guidance of light. This is an exciting and popular topic of research, so making a valuable contribution there would be hard but we will give it try. Hope it works!