Ajay Nahata was born in Vadodara, Gujarat, India and moved to the United States with his family when he was five years old. He spent his entire childhood through high school in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Growing up he had a broad range of interests, but was particularly involved in tennis, chess and math (in no particular order).
Ajay graduated from MIT with a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, although he spent a large part of his freshman year exploring a variety of different majors including mathematics, artificial intelligence and cognitive science. He then obtained his Master’s degree from Columbia University, again in electrical engineering, with a focus on optics and semiconductor physics. Between his Master’s and Ph.D. degrees, Ajay spent five years working at AlliedSignal Inc. (now Honeywell International) investigating the nonlinear optical properties of organic materials, particularly poled polymers, and their application to devices for high speed optical communications.
He then returned to Columbia University to obtain his Ph.D. in electrical engineering focusing on the use of ultrafast near-infrared lasers to develop terahertz (THz) optoelectronics. The primary contribution from his dissertation work was the development of room temperature approaches to generating and coherently detecting broader bandwidth THz radiation than was previously possible using existing semiconductor devices. These approaches are widely used today in THz labs around the world. After obtaining his Ph.D., Ajay returned to industry for a combined time of nearly seven years at AlliedSignal and NEC Research Institute. During that time, his research topics included optical communications, surface plasmonics, THz optoelectronics and quantum optics.
In 2003, Ajay joined the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Utah as an Associate Professor. After being promoted to the rank of Professor, Ajay was appointed the Associated Dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Engineering. In that role, he not only led the accreditation effort for the College, but also its recruiting and outreach effort and its effort to teach both oral and written communications to all undergraduate students. He was also the principal investigator and Director of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) that supported the research efforts of approximately 20 faculty and 50 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows over a seven-year period. As a professor, Ajay’s primary research effort was in the area of plasmonics and metamaterials, with a goal of developing devices for high-speed communications. During his time in Utah, he mentored a total of eight Ph.D. students, four post-doctoral fellows and nearly two dozen graduate, undergraduate and high school students. Since 2019, Ajay has transitioned back to industry and led efforts in creating and making commercially available high-precision, high-sensitivity diode laser-based optical spectrometers and physics-based algorithms that make sense of the measured data.