Pawan Kumar perhaps does not fit the popular conception of an astronomer -- he is rarely to be found burning the midnight oil in an observatory. Rather, you'd more likely find him working at the desk in his pleasant 17th floor office. Pawan does not observe astronomical objects with telescopes; his forte is the theoretical side of astronomical phenomena. Using data gathered by other astronomers, he strives to understand and solve some of the big questions of modern astronomy. Currently, his attention is fixed on gamma-ray bursts -- extremely concentrated, intense, and short lived emissions of gamma rays.
From India to Austin via CalTech, MIT, & Princeton
Born in north-central India, Pawan spent his early academic career at the Indian Institute of Technology, earning degrees in computer science and physics. Though he did not end up in the software industry, the physics degree provided a platform for his jump into astronomy. After working for a year he went back to school, eventually receiving a PhD in astrophysics from the California Institute of Technology. He subsequently worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, and now does research at The University of Texas at Austin.
Training Science Teachers
Pawan also participates in the UTeach program, which trains future elementary and secondary-school science and math teachers. In particular, he teaches these future science educators how to think critically, how to read scientific literature, and how to carry out independent research.
Over the course of his career, Pawan has entertained interest in several astronomical subjects, including helioseismology (the study of the Sun's interior) and gamma-ray bursts, but he is more broadly interested in figuring things out. That is to say that the most exciting part of his job is discovering the solution to a puzzle, and being the first to do so. Referring to his work, Pawan remarks, "The most enjoyable part is to understand something that nobody knew before or that you had no idea was going on."
A Passion for Reading
Pawan says he also has a passion for reading, with a particular fondness for current affairs and literature. Eighteenth and nineteenth century classics are his favorites.
Professor, Department of Astronomy, University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D. Astrophysics, California Institute of Technology
M. Tech, Computer Science, Indian Institute of Technology