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For Immediate Release
July 1, 2014

Faculty Spotlight: Dipen Bhattacharya

 

"An alien dusk descended as the fiery colors of the sunlight burned the clouds at the very edge of the sky. A wispy melancholic light meandered into the gray corner of the room, refracting through the delicate glass of a china lampshade. The lamp stood on an ornate table made of solid malachite bearing greenish streaks. The lamp had not worked for many years. Evidence of its darkness was borne by numerous half-burnt candles that littered the floor...Outside and far below, the yellow trees stood silent and afraid on the threshold of a solitary night. Similar dusks had descended for uncountable days and nobody marked the dates that filled the void of time."
--Dipen Bhattacharya
--The Palace

Dipen Bhattacharya, an astrophysicist by training, is best known locally as an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Moreno Valley College and a research physicist at UC Riverside.

But, on the other side of the world, he is known as a best-selling science fiction author in his native Bangladesh.

Bhattacharya, a Fulbright Scholar, has published three science fiction books in Bengali and a fourth should be published later this year. He also writes scientific articles and short stories for Bengali newspapers and magazines.

"I've always been attracted to literature and science fiction," said Bhattacharya, who lists Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Ursula le Guin, Stanislaw Lem, Jorge Luis Borges and the Russian Strugatsky brothers among his "pillars of inspiration."

Bhattacharya attributes some of his success to the fact that the science fiction market in Bangladesh is relatively new so his style of writing has been well received. Another key to his success is a science organization he established for young scholars in 1975, which hosts science exhibitions and astronomy events and promotes science literacy.

"It has a lot of members and they keep track of what I do so I have a built-in fan base," Bhattacharya said.

The setting for his first book called "The Palace" is about a place where time slows to a crawl. It was inspired by the 787-foot-tall dormitory building of Moscow State University in Russia where he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in physics. It is the tallest educational structure in the world.

"It was quite big and once inside, you could easily lose your way," Bhattacharya said.

In his second novel, "Dita's Watch," Bhattacharya chronicles the struggle between a country with a culture of watch-making and a foreign occupying force whose ideology does not allow measuring time. In addition to historical and moral metaphors, he also introduces quantum mechanics, a branch of physics, into the tale.

Bhattacharya earned his PhD in astrophysics from the University of New Hampshire. He worked for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland for three years before joining the Gamma-Ray Astronomy Group at UC Riverside as a researcher in 1993. The group, which developed a second generation gamma-ray telescope and flew it from New Mexico and Australia, ran out of NASA funding last year but another grant proposal is pending.

Since 2001, he has been teaching physics and astronomy at Moreno Valley College where he works with students on research projects including analyzing Hubble Space Telescope Data and initiated a physics and astronomy colloquium featuring scientists from UCR and UCLA.

Sometimes he'll share the books he has written with his students even though they don't understand the language.

"They will look me up quite often on the Internet," Bhattacharya said. "They get a kick out of that actually."

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