UIC physics and mathematics student named Goldwater Scholar

Lopa Bhatt, a UIC Honors College member
Lopa Bhatt, a UIC Honors College member who is majoring in physics and mathematics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

A University of Illinois at Chicago undergraduate student studying electron microscopy has been recognized for her academic achievement by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence Foundation.

Lopa Bhatt, a junior majoring in physics and mathematics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is the latest UIC student to receive the prominent $7,500 scholarship that will cover tuition, books and related fees during the 2020-21 academic year.

Almost 400 recipients in mathematics, science and engineering were selected from an estimated applicant pool of over 5,000 college sophomores and juniors for the Goldwater Scholarship, named for the late Republican senator from Arizona.

Bhatt, a UIC Honors College member from Naperville, has studied in the lab of Robert Klie, UIC professor of physics, where her work has been focused on improving techniques related to the fabrication of graphene-based liquid cells, or GLCs.

“Lopa has learned not only how to operate a state-of-the-art electron microscope, she is also able to perform atomic-resolution imaging and spectroscopy using electron probes that do not damage the delicate graphene liquid cells. This is an extraordinary achievement,” Klie said.

Bhatt is involved in several cutting-edge research projects and will be a co-author on at least three papers, covering a wide range of materials and biomaterials science.

“Previous studies have demonstrated that charged nanoparticles have a wide range of applications, from the treatment of diseases, such as cancer and bacterial infections, to the removal of pollutants from water,” she said. “Nevertheless, much remains unknown about the behavior of charged nanoparticles in aqueous solution, primarily due to the small scale of nanoparticles and the limitations of optical microscopes.”

This inability to quantify the interactions between the liquid and the charged nanoparticles has been a significant barrier to their development and implementation in medical and environmental applications.

“These GLCs can be used to examine solutions through the scanning transmission electron microscope — an instrument that is able to even see the arrangement of atoms in a material,” Bhatt said. “I have been able to improve the GLCs in order to encapsulate the nanoparticles solution and make progress in understanding how the nanoparticles behave in nanoconfined spaces in solutions.”

Last year, she presented research at conferences held by the American Physical Society, Microscopy Society of America and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

“Such exposure to the research community is unique for an undergraduate student, and is the result of Lopa’s outstanding research and presentation skills,” Klie said.

Her future academic and professional objectives are to earn a Ph.D. from a top-tier materials science/condensed matter physics program and become a successful researcher or professor focused on electron microscopy.

Bhatt, who was born in India, moved to the U.S. in 2015. She graduated from Metea Valley High School in 2017 and received the President’s Award Program-Honors Scholarship, which is the Honors College’s most prestigious award and covers four-year tuition and housing for exemplary incoming first-year students.

While at UIC, she has received multiple university honors, including the Chancellor’s Undergraduate Research Award, the UIContest Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher and the College of Liberal Arts and Science Undergraduate Research Initiative Award. The Honors College has also awarded her undergraduate conference travel grants and an undergraduate research grant.

In addition to family and friends, Bhatt credits her achievements in part to the support she’s received at UIC from people such as Klie; Andrew Shulman, senior lecturer in mathematics, statistics and computer science, and Mark Schlossman, professor of physics.

“Some of the professors at UIC have had a really big impact on my educational career, and it is because of them that I have gotten this far,” she said.

UIC’s Office of External Fellowships provides advising and assistance to current undergraduate and professional school students in finding and applying for a range of nationally and internationally competitive fellowships, scholarships and grants.

“Lopa’s success in the Goldwater competition — the most prestigious STEM award nationwide for sophomores and juniors involved in research — is a testament to her intellect, dedication and research skills, and it is also evidence of UIC’s strength in providing opportunities and mentoring in and through undergraduate research,” said Kim Germain, director of UIC’s Office of External Fellowships.

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