Columbia Engineering Mourns Professor Emeritus Amiya Sen

Amiya Sen
—Photo credit: Eileen Barroso

The Columbia Engineering community mourns the loss of professor emeritus Amiya K. Sen, a noted expert in plasma physics and a respected educator. Sen passed away at his home on March 28. He was 89 years old.

Sen spent over 50 years on the faculty at Columbia Engineering, which he joined in 1963 in a joint appointment with the Departments of Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics. While at Columbia, Sen became a pioneer in the control and study of drift instabilities in magnetically confined plasma. Drift instabilities are called “universal instabilities,” because they occur in all magnetized plasma, exciting turbulent fluctuations and causing transport of plasma particles and energy across the confining lines of magnetic force. Using a unique laboratory experiment, called the Columbia Linear Machine, Sen and his students were able to excite and observe drift instabilities under a great variety of conditions. The Sen research group made the first controlled observations of drift instabilities excited by gradients of ion temperature, magnetic field strength, and the effects of magnetic electron trapping. Using active feedback techniques, Sen successfully controlled drift instabilities and measured drift wave at both small and large amplitudes. Professor Sen’s research group established new understanding of these fundamental drift instabilities and helping efforts to predict plasma confinement in magnetic fusion energy experiments and in the magnetized plasma in space.

A graduate of the Indian Institute of Science in 1952, Sen earned his MS from MIT in 1958, and his PhD at Columbia in 1963. Over the course of his career, Sen published numerous papers in the top archival journal in his field, the Physical Review Letters, as well as in several other publications. A fellow of the American Physical Society and IEEE, he also served as a consultant/advisor to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation. The Society of Columbia Graduates honored him with the Great Teacher Award in 1984.

Amiya Sen retired from Columbia Engineering in 2017.

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