Laser sharp: CHS senior Sreya Vemuri earns $25,000 scholarship for work in optical quantum physics


By Mark Ambrogi

Dr. Gautam Vemuri holds a Ph.D in physics and is a physics professor at IUPUI. His wife Praveena, who has a master’s degree, is a software quality assurance engineer at ITT Educational Services.

Yet even they aren’t totally clear on their daughter’s award-winning project.

“We’re proud and we’re trying to figure exactly it is that she did,” Vemuri said. “I’m in experimental physics. This is theoretical physics, this is the kind of stuff people hear Stephen Hawking do.”

Sreya, a Carmel High School senior, was awarded a Davidson Fellows scholarship by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development. She is one of just 20 students nationally to be recognized as a 2015 Davidson Fellow for significant contributions in science, technology, engineering, math, music or literature.

Sreya, 17, will receive a $25,000 scholarship for work in the field of quantum mechanics. Her project, called Effect of Time-Dependent Gain and Loss in a Symmetric Lattice, advances fundamental quantum mechanics of PT-symmetric systems. PT stands for parity and time.

“I’m thankful for the award because it gives me encouragement to pursue this further,” said Sreya, who was honored in a Washington, D.C., reception with other Davidson Fellows on Sept. 29.

Sreya said her project is one of the few that has been done on time-dependent PT-symmetric quantum mechanics, an area of study that includes looking at the loss and gain of light. She said it has applications in many areas of optics such as making single frequency lasers.

“Imagine that we have two optical fibers and one of them amplifies light and the other causes an attenuation of light,” Sreya said. “So we find when we have equal amplification and decay that some special properties of light arise. This can allow us to control the intensity of light in specific parameters. So this can have applications in optical communications where we might be able to control signals that have grown too strong.”

To apply for the scholarship, Sreya had to write several essays about the project about its benefits to society. She also included a 30-page report and 10-minute video on the project.

“I’ve always been interested in physics and math,” Sreya said. “In particular, I developed an interest in linear algebra and probability, so I wanted to pursue this further and challenge us to explore beyond what they teach us in school.”

Sreya credited Dr. Yogesh Joglekar, IUPUI associate professor of physics, for serving as her mentor on the project. She has worked with him since the spring of 2014.

“He told me quantum mechanics dealt with probability and linear algebra, so I thought this was perfect for me,” Sreya said. “He gave me several different topics to choose and thought PT-symmetry sounded interesting.”

Sreya said other students she knew had worked with Joglekar.

Joglekar has been working with high school students for five or six years.

“I would say Sreya is the best student I’ve had for her age,” Joglekar said. “One thing that impresses me and distinguishes her from other students is if she has a problem, she wants it solved completely. She investigates all possible theories.”

Joglekar said for many students solving the problem is the end of the process.

“Typically in research solving the problem is the beginning of the process,” Joglekar said.

Sreya, who wants to pursue her interest in math, physics and computer science, spent six weeks at a summer program of 85 students at Research Science Institute at MIT, working on quantum cryptography.

Meet Sreya Vemuri

Activities: Serves as online editor for the HiLite, Carmel High School’s newsmagazine. Worked as a reporter for the previous two years. Member of the Math Club and Academic Bowl squad. Playing piano for 12 years and has learned vocal Indian classical music for several years. Finished third in the ensemble category at the Young Hoosier state piano competition in August.

Personal: Has completed 10 Advanced Placement classes with a weighted GPA of about 4.6 entering her senior year. Older brother Harsha is a junior majoring in computer science and economics at Columbia University.

What she does to relax: “I watch a lot of Netflix. I also like to hang out with my friends and play music.”

Where she sees herself in 10 years: “I hope to be continuing my research and be in a research lab in one of the fields I’m interested in.”

Favorite TV show: Grey’s Anatomy.

Favorite classes: AP Calculus BC and AP Physics C.

Favorite food: Italian food.

Favorite author: F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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