Jyotirmoy Mandal

PhD '19

Having spent his childhood in Bangladesh, Jyotirmoy Mandal, a PhD candidate in the department of applied physics & applied mathematics, arrived at Columbia more than aware of the critical need for designs and devices that are accessible to people around the world, particularly in developing countries--where, for instance, innovative optical designs are often too expensive for widespread use. It's these sorts of challenges that fit Mandal's skillset, blending cutting-edge physics with very down-to-earth solutions any of us could implement.

A prime example can be found among one of his most recent projects, where working with his advisor Yuan Yang, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, and their collaborator Nanfang Yu, associate professor of applied physics, he invented an exterior polymer coating, with nano-to-microscale air voids, that can radiate and lose heat into space, and can be fabricated, dyed, and applied like paint. This inexpensive, easy-to-apply coating can passively cool objects, and can lower the ambient temperature inside buildings without requiring any additional energy use.

Mandal’s upbringing had a strong influence in his education and scientific motivations. He interest in science was sparked by his parents, who encouraged him to learn beyond textbooks by watching BBC and National Geographic documentaries, and by building toys and contraptions using tools from a young age. Mandal excelled in math and physics at secondary school, and went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, for college.

“Being part of a family of medical doctors, there was perhaps an implicit expectation from my family that I would go on to study medicine in college,” says Mandal “But I was more interested in physics from a young age. I also liked hands-on research, as it leads to an understanding of fundamental theories grounded on real-world experience. During my senior year, I started to think about how science could be used to improve lives in developing countries such as mine, and that drew me towards applied physics.”

Mandal earned his BA degree in physics and mathematics, with a minor in materials science and engineering, in 2014. He came to Columbia for his doctoral studies, and has been working with Yang, whose research is focused on developing next-generation batteries and thermal management. In collaboration with Yu, they have created an impressive variety of designs, including the paintable polymer coating that can passively cool buildings, selective solar absorbers that harvest heat from sunlight, and optically switchable designs that can change color to control light and heat. Mandal’s work on the paintable polymer coating for passively cooling buildings was published last fall in Science to a good deal of interest, and his work on selective solar absorbers was published in Advanced Materials.

In April, Mandal was selected as a Schmidt Science Fellow, an innovative post-doctoral program focused on developing the “next generation of interdisciplinary science leaders to tackle the world’s most significant problems and maximize scientific opportunities for society.” He is one of 20 young researchers from 15 countries chosen for this program, now in its second year, which was founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt in partnership with the Rhodes Trust. Each fellow is awarded a stipend of $100,000 and receives personalized mentoring from experienced and internationally accomplished scientists.

“As an applied physicist, I have sought to understand the interaction of light with materials, and create designs for controlling light using common materials and simple techniques, so that they can be used in developing countries,” he says. “As I learn more about the fundamentals of optical design going forward, I hope to build low-cost optical components for next-generation cameras and imaging systems.”

Mandal credits his journey from Bangladesh to Columbia to the support from his family. “I have been fortunate to have parents who have always encouraged me to pursue science since childhood and taken an active interest in my work. When I go back home now, they actually help me build setups and test my designs in the field. So in a sense, it is a full-circle, and I find that very fulfilling.”

“I am very grateful to my advisor Professor Yang, and Professor Yu and his group for their patience and guidance,” he adds. “Professor Yang’s openness to my exploring optical and thermal design when I joined his group, and his initiative while venturing into what was a new field for both of us, is a rare quality in an advisor. So being mentored by him has been an experience I will cherish. Our works have also been guided by our involvement with the Yu group. We feed off each other’s ideas, and I hope that our work together will continue to yield meaningful results.”

Student Spotlight

Professor Yang’s openness to my exploring optical and thermal design when I joined his group, and his initiative while venturing into what was a new field for both of us, is a rare quality in an advisor. Being mentored by him has been an experience I will cherish.

Jyotirmoy Mandal
PhD '19