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Getting to Know Goldwater Scholar Lopa Bhatt

Lopa Bhatt standing in a wooded area with a big smile on her face.

Lopa Bhatt, a physics major studying electron microsopy, was awarded a Barry M. Goldwater scholarship for the 2020-2021 academic year. The nationally competitive award is widely recognized as the most prestigious scholarship available to undergraduate science, mathematics, and engineering students in the United States. For details about the scholarship and Bhatt’s research, read more from UIC Today. We recently caught up with Bhatt to find out more about her personal perspective on the scholarship, her research interests, and her appreciation for the field of physics.


What are you most excited about or most curious about in your research right now?

Currently, my research project is at somewhat of a crossroads. To study the ordering of nanoparticles in solution in nanoconfined spaces, we use graphene-based liquid cells. To accurately model the interactions that occur in such systems, we require the nanoparticles to freely float in the liquid between the layers of graphene that make up the liquid cell. Even after increasing the cell size, the particles haven’t been floating in our liquid cells. I am most curious about how to overcome this issue and move forward. I am not sure if we can truly interpret enough information from the current data without the particles being able to float freely, and I am unsure if starting from scratch will benefit the project. At the moment, I have no idea what I am going to do, but just thinking about getting back to the lab and to figure this all out has made me super excited lately.


What drew you to major in physics?

I started at UIC as a declared biology major with a pre-med track. Although I was not certain of what I wanted to do, I figured that biology would be an interesting back up plan. I knew I wanted to try out physics and math classes at university because I enjoyed them a lot throughout high school. After taking a year of physics and math, I became sure that I wanted to develop a future within either physics or mathematics. I actually didn’t make up my mind to pursue physics until my sophomore year. I decided after taking some higher-level physics and math classes and conducting some math and physics research. While I really enjoyed math research, I did not enjoy it as much as I did physics research, and I noticed the same passion spark for advanced physics classes. Since then, I haven’t regretted the decision and am looking forward to continuing my education and career in physics.


Who was the first person you told when you found out you had received the Goldwater scholarship?

Before I had heard the announcement, I was actually trying to distract myself from the anxiousness I felt from knowing the announcement was coming by watching TV. Once I heard the news, I could barely believe what I had read, and began telling those closest to me: I first told my sisters, then emailed my mentors and told my parents.


What’s your favorite hobby outside of academics?

I do love reading books. Throughout the semester, when I do not have much free time, I listen to audio books while working in the lab or walking from one class to another. I also enjoy playing chess with the graduate students in my research group. And if watching TV is considered a hobby, I watch TV to take my mind away from research and my studies for a short while.


Do you have any advice you’d like to share with other undergraduates about research or scholarships? 

While I still find it hard to accept that I am someone that could give others advice, I would definitely recommend that every undergraduate engage in research and begin early to better understand what they are interested in and what they would like to do after graduating. While it may seem hard to balance the time as a full-time student, engaging in research really helps you develop a better idea of what applications your education has. It’s also a unique and once-in-a-lifetime experience.


Is there anything else you’d like to share about your research, the scholarship, or your experience at UIC?

In my opinion, the physics department is one of the most supportive communities at UIC. All the people I have met through the department have been very kind and supportive. All my professors, especially my research professors, Professor Klie and Professor Schlossman, have helped me and supported me for past two years, and I am very thankful for that. At first, when I started UIC, I was not sure whether UIC would be the best fit for me and my future. Now I do not regret my decision at all, and am proud of the student and researcher that the department has shaped me into.