Ojas Mahapatra

'You have the chance to work on extremely sophisticated, million-dollar equipment...'

  • Ojas mahapatra

PhD in Physics

CEO, Photonic Innovations Ltd, Dunedin

Having completed his PhD in Physics, Ojas has now landed a job as CEO of Photonic Innovations Ltd, a role which gives him an opportunity to satisfy his entrepreneurial drive and use his expertise in the field of nanotechnology.

‘The company aims to commercialise a new technology which detects toxic gases in industrial environments thereby helping to safeguard employee health,’ he says.

‘My job is to run the company, hire technical, marketing and sales people, and eventually ensure a long-term vision to grow. In the short term, we aim to become the most preferred gas detection company in New Zealand.

‘I always aspired to be an entrepreneur and was always interested in applications of what we studied. Fundamentals and theory are good, but if they do not translate into something which benefits society we all are wasting time and money.’

Ojas’ PhD focused on the electronic properties of the substance bismuth.

‘I studied thin films of bismuth using Scanning Tunnelling Microscopy (STM). With this technique we study the electronic properties of the material at the fundamental level and how those properties can be applied to a particular application, for example in next-generation electronic components. Bismuth is a very interesting material because it can change its property from semimetal, to metal, to insulator, depending on how thin a film you make.’

Ojas describes PhD research as being full of uncertainties, but that is what he likes most about it.

‘When you are doing research you win and lose on a daily basis. Your research extends your knowledge about the unknown and it gives you pleasure. It’s like a high, knowing something that nobody else on the planet knows – until you publish it of course!

‘As far as a PhD in Physics or Nanotechnology goes, it is wonderful. You have the chance to work on extremely sophisticated, million-dollar equipment which you can brag about all your life! The job opportunities after any degree always depend on the candidate, but a PhD next to your name and Dr in front of it does help.’

Following his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, which he gained at SRM University in his native India, Ojas was keen to come to UC for his PhD. He was awarded a MacDiarmid Institute-funded PhD scholarship and couldn’t wait to get started.

‘I was very keen to work with Professor Simon Brown’s research group because they are a world-class research group. I wanted to see New Zealand too.’

Ojas says he found life as an international student to be ‘the best experience ever!’

‘The moment I arrived here I went into culture shock, but UC, and New Zealand in general, made me feel so welcome that it became a humbling experience. I soon forgot that I was from India. People are so nice here and everyone smiles at you when you walk past them. I have travelled quite a lot and I can say that the work culture here is the best in the world.’

Ojas has thrown himself into the social culture too, joining a Christchurch cricket club and playing the guitar and drums in his spare time.

‘An international student could not be treated better, or feel more welcome in any other place than New Zealand.’

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