Sciences and Exploration Directorate
Early Career Scientist Spotlight - Shanwlee Sow Mondal

Early Career Scientist Spotlight

Ms. Shanwlee Sow Mondal (she/her/hers)

Solar Physicist
Solar Physics Laboratory (671)

What is your research focus?

The main focus of my research revolves around understanding the energy transport mechanisms in the inner and outer solar atmosphere. The fact that the solar atmosphere is hotter than its surface is the unresolved “coronal heating problem”. To understand how the solar corona maintains its high temperature, one needs to understand how energy is transported in the different layers of the solar atmosphere. I use magnetohydrodynamic simulations to understand this energy transportation. I have explored the role of chromospheric jets, called spicules, in explaining the solar corona. Currently, I am working on the development of multi-strand simulations where the interaction of multiple flux tubes and the plasma evolution along a single flux tube will help in better understanding the solar atmosphere.

Another aspect of my research interests is to understand the instabilities driven by wave-particle interactions in the solar wind plasma. Shock waves driven by interplanetary coronal mass ejections are considered to be potential sites for particle acceleration. High energy particles that escape upstream in the shocks are expected to drive several solar wind instabilities. I use magnetohydrodynamic particle-in-cell simulations to understand this kind of system. In addition to that, I analyze solar wind in-situ data to test my simulation predictions.

What is one of your favorite moments in your career so far?

The first memorable moment in my research career was when I was selected to give a talk in the Astronomical Society of India (ASI) in 2019. I was in my second year of PhD. That was my first direct interaction with the solar physics community. After meeting experts like Arnab Rai Choudhury and many more, I felt so overwhelmed. My younger self was tremendously motivated when she had the chance to interact with those beautiful minds. Even though I've given numerous presentations since then, the first one has always had a special place in my heart.

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Left: My first talk in Astronomical Society of India (ASI-2019), Christ University, Bangalore, India. Right: A group photo with colleagues at ASI.
Credit: Left: One of my friends from PRL, Right: Vipin Kumar

How did you end up working at NASA Goddard?

Okay, story time! Back then, I was collaborating with Dr. James A. Klimchuk, my present supervisor, on one of my PhD projects. One fine day, we were discussing a plot that I had sent him. And then I got an email from him asking me if I would like to join Goddard as a postdoc working with him!! Honestly, I had no clue what just happened! It took me several minutes to process that email before responding to him and accepting this opportunity. I am glad I accepted the offer and this is probably the best moment I will always be grateful for. Thanks, Jim!

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Expanded Owens Valley Solar Array (OVSA) Data and GX Simulator Modeling Camp & Frequency Array Solar Radiotelescope (FASR) Workshop 2023, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark, NJ. This was my first workshop after coming to USA. I am pictured working with two beautiful souls (friends of mine who are currently postdoctoral researchers at the Naval Research Lab).
Credit: James A. Klimchuk

Did you always know that you wanted to study solar physics?

I first learned about solar physics while I was applying to PhD programs at various institutions in the final year of my Master's program. I met Dr. Aveek Sarkar, my PhD supervisor, when I joined Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad as a junior research fellow in 2017. Throughout the first year of our PhD coursework, we were required to complete four short-term projects, preferably in different divisions. This was meant to explore the diversity of research going on in PRL. My supervisor introduced me to this fascinating field of solar physics, and we worked together on my last two projects in a row. That is how I ended up working in solar physics.

Fun fact: I joined PRL with the intention of pursuing a PhD in cosmology, but I fell in love with solar physics instead.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

I get to interact with so many brilliant people every day thanks to my job. The opportunity for occasional, informal scientific conversation in our group is something I really like. I truly love discussing diverse ideas with my coworkers. I enjoy presenting my work at various conferences and workshops. Last but not least, this job has given me full freedom to use my intellect in a field that I genuinely love.

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Left: Poster of my talk announcement in Center of Excellence in Space Sciences India (CESSI), IISER Kolkata, India. Right: Me pictured with Prof. Dibyendu Nandy and some amazing CESSI folks. This was my first seminar in front of my father (middle).
Credit: Left: Arnab Basak, Right: Staff at IISER Kolkata

Who inspires you?

There are several people who inspire me, but my biggest inspiration is my father. He used to tell me about Kalpana Chawla and her contribution to mankind. That is when my interest in astrophysics began. However, it was only during my Master's that I officially started pursuing a specialized course in Astrophysics. This is when my love for this fascinating field started to become stronger. However, I still believe the seed for knowing this field was implanted in me by my father when I was a child.

My next inspiration is my PhD advisor who did almost everything to offer me the best possible exposure to this profession. His love for work and belief in me motivates me a lot. He never fails to remind me of my capacity to develop into the finest version of myself.

Last but not the least, I am inspired by the brilliant individuals around me. In this profession, we receive great exposure to beautiful minds. My inspiration comes from their commitment and enthusiasm for the job.

Before coming to the US, I visited my old school where I spent 10 years of my childhood. This year a reunion was planned, but, unfortunately, I cannot attend it. However, the joy I saw in my teachers' eyes when they learned I was going to join NASA as a postdoctoral researcher moved me a lot. These are the things that spur me on and keep me working as I do.

What do you like to do in your free time?

My passion for experimenting with food goes hand in hand with my interests in solar physics. My kitchen serves as my laboratory, where I experiment with various ingredients to produce exciting results. I find cooking to be highly therapeutic. In addition to cooking, I enjoy watching lifestyle and travel videos. I do like singing Rabindra Sangeet and playing the harmonium in my free time. I have had a long-standing interest in learning Calligraphy, which I intend to do in the near future.

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A walk down memory lane. Left: Holi celebration in Visva Bharati, Santiniketan (2016). Right: My performance in freshers’ party 2021 in PRL.
Credit: Left: One of my friends at Visva Bharati, Right: Vikas Soni


Home Town:
Bolpur-Santiniketan, West Bengal, India

Undergraduate Degree:
B.Sc in Physics, Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, India

Post-graduate Degrees:
M.Sc (Physics), Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, India

Ph.D. (in progress) Solar Physics, Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad, India

personal photo
Credit: Unknown

Link to Ms. Sow Mondal's GSFC Bio

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