Sahil Pontula is an applied physicist who aims to harness light-matter interactions in novel ways. He is working to enable discoveries in fundamental physics leading to next-generation technologies in energy, sensing and communication.
Pontula will begin a doctoral program in electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in fall 2023.
His doctoral research will focus on using nonlinear and quantum optics to generate reliable sources of macroscopic quantum states of light, which could revolutionize existing quantum information and sensing platforms. Collaborating with an interdisciplinary team, he is also excited to explore more unconventional paths, such as pursuing his passion for climate activism by harnessing the power of quantum optics and nanophotonics for energy applications, including enhanced batteries and photovoltaic devices.
From a young age, Pontula has been fascinated by the power of the massless photon and the ubiquity of light-matter interactions, from the smallest scales in nanotechnology to the largest scales in cosmology. In high school and during his undergraduate career, he explored how light interacts with matter in a multitude of forms, from nucleic acid nanoplasmonic devices to 2D material single-photon emitters. He graduated from MIT with bachelor’s degrees in physics and electrical engineering. His diverse experiences have resulted in several publications and conference presentations, and have equipped him with theoretical, computational and experimental skills that shape his current research interests at the intersection of photonics theory and experiment.
Pontula credits his many mentors with sparking his interests in physics and engineering. He was a Research Science Institute (RSI) top research paper awardee, a Regeneron Science Talent Search scholar and an International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics bronze medalist. These experiences have collectively shaped his commitment to mentorship. He now serves as a research referee for RSI as well as president and coach for the USA Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad. Pontula also serves as an advocacy chair of the MIT Society of Physics Students and representative of the American Physical Society Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Alliance.
The natural beauty of North Carolina — Pontula’s home state — has shaped his love for hiking and observational astronomy, while his Indian American heritage underpins his passion for cooking multiethnic dishes and learning different languages. He finds inspiration for research as an avid soccer player and pianist.
The 2023 Hertz Summer Workshop, which took place August 3–6, 2023, at the University of California, San Diego campus, was truly a one-of-a-kind gathering filled with vibrant discussions, meaningful networking and productive collaboration.