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Chevron Permian engineer and his wife publish in European Journal of Physics

Chevron Permian engineer and his wife publish in European Journal of Physics

For Krishnaraj Sambath and his wife, Vidhya Nagarajan, the birth of their first child was the start of more than one grand experiment.

While Vidhya was pregnant, the couple decided to attempt to solve a variation of a unique physics problem originally solved by Sir Isaac Newton about 300 years ago.

Krishna, a senior process engineer at Chevron in Midland, and Vidhya, materials team lead at ChampionX, carved out roughly a few hours on Saturday mornings to work on solving the problem. Five years later, the couple now has a second child, and the distinction of being published in the European Journal of Physics for their breakthrough (view article here).

Krishna and Vidhya used their many combined years of education in mathematics and physics to solve the problem, which involved finding the fastest way an object can travel between two points on a downward trajectory using gravity. If being published in a major physics journal doesn’t qualify you as a cool parent, finding the best way to shape a playground slide or roller coaster to optimize speed should do the trick.

But the couple had other reasons for pursuing this physics challenge.

“My wife and I wanted to have our names together in a public document that is not a marriage certificate,” Krishna said. “This is our way. It’s going to outlast us.”

Krishna said the European Journal of Physics article also provided an opportunity to pen acknowledgements to his mentors, including his uncle and professors from his undergraduate and graduate studies.

Ninety percent of the couple’s efforts to solve the problem involved math and physics, Krishna said. They of course used props too, like a ball, ramp and a camera to film their experiments.

“We start with physics, then build on it with math,” he said.

Perhaps the most difficult equation is finding the time – and brain space – to solve such a problem while balancing two careers and a growing family. It’s a good thing the couple enjoys doing math. Krishna said his mentors helped him develop a general interest in mathematics. He often reads peer-reviewed articles in publications like Scientific American and The American Mathematical Monthly. Krishna and his wife found the variation of the problem they would uncover in one of the articles.

Krishna and Vidhya are natives of Chennai in southeastern India. They first met in 2014 in Canada, where Vidhya was in graduate school. The couple first started thinking about pursuing a solution to a mathematical problem together in 2017.

Today, Krishna is a senior process engineer at Chevron, where he has worked for the last 10 years. He transferred from Houston to Midland two years ago to work in operations and to be “closer to the field where the action is happening.” Krishna said he enjoys his work and especially working for one of the world’s largest energy providers.

“From a professional standpoint, I understand the world’s need for affordable, reliable and ever-cleaner energy, not just today but for the foreseeable future,” Krishna said, adding that he commends his company’s significant investments in the communities where they operate and in technologies that aim for a lower-carbon future.

Chevron takes care of its employees, providing opportunities to develop, such as his current gig working in operations in Midland, according to Krishna. The company also provides work-life balance. Then again, choosing to do math on your day off might not qualify in that regard. But hey, that’s how Krishna and Vidhya like to spend part of their Saturday.

The couple is now reveling in the recent birth of their second child, which begs the question: Is it time to start working on a new physics problem?

“She’s 5 months now, we should probably start it again,” Krishna quipped.

That might not make sense to most people. But for this couple, it all adds up.