September 28, 2023
Mohit Verma, who grew up in Toronto, is a fourth-year PhD student in Physics. His research is in experimental atomic physics with the goal of probing new physics beyond the standard model. He and his team hope to do this by creating quantum gases of ultracold radioactive polar molecules and performing ultra-precise spectroscopy in the presence of external fields. This spectroscopy will allow them to find particles that cannot be produced at current particle accelerators. Mohit went to University of Toronto for his undergrad in engineering science as well as his master’s in physics.
We interviewed him about his experiences at UChicago.
Why did you choose the University of Chicago?
Honestly, my biggest reason for coming to UChicago was to work with my advisor, David DeMille. I have always found his research to be very interesting and on the cutting edge. The fact there was an opportunity to start a new experiment with him while also living in Chicago sealed the deal for me!
Please describe something you are proud of accomplishing at UChicago.
The backbone for a lot of my research is the technique of laser-cooling atoms to the coldest temperatures on Earth. In our experiment, we’re currently focused on silver atoms. While the field has matured over the past 30 years, there are not well-established techniques for laser-cooling silver. After multiple years of hard work and building, I can proudly say I now routinely make the coldest silver atoms on Earth! I’m quite proud to have gone from an empty lab space to having a fully functional unique apparatus.
What has been your most memorable class and why?
I really enjoyed Introduction to Cosmology taught by Clay Córdova. Cosmology is fairly unrelated to my daily research so it’s not a topic I normally give thought to. To be fully honest, I initially wasn’t even thrilled to be taking the course since I just saw it as a course requirement I had to get out of my way. To my surprise, I actually thoroughly enjoyed the course! It helped that Clay was an excellent and entertaining lecturer, but I also found the subject matter to be quite fascinating. It’s amazing how cosmology requires input from so many fields including statistical mechanics, nuclear physics, astrophysics, particle physics, and quantum mechanics. I was constantly intrigued by seeing the marriage of all these fields to understand the evolution of the early universe.
What is your favorite restaurant or food truck in Hyde Park? What is your favorite dish?
You can never go wrong with Cafe 53—they make superb sandwiches! I particularly like their tuna avocado sandwich on Dutch crunch (Dutch crunch bread really elevates all of their sandwiches in my opinion).
What is your favorite campus spot and why?
Definitely the Ida Noyes pub! I’ve had some of the most intelligent and also goofy conversations in the exact same place. Craft beer, classy lighting, and fried cheese curds. What more could you want?
What’s something you love to do outside of the classroom or lab?
I’ve become a bit of a coffee snob since I moved to Chicago, so you can often find me perfecting my espresso with some fancy coffee beans.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve done in the city so far (tours, concerts, parades, games, etc.)?
Chicago is full of so many great and creative breweries! On multiple occasions, I’ve gone around to a part of town with some friends and sampled different local beers. If you’re planning to try this, I personally think Logan Square has the best spots!
What support have you received at UChicago that was particularly valuable to you?
I am always very grateful for the support I received from Luigi Mazzenga, the JFI machine shop supervisor. I began at UChicago in 2020 just as people were starting to go back to labs again. To make matters worse, my lab was in the process of moving from Yale to UChicago, so I started out as the only person in the group on campus. For my first project, I had the daunting task of winding 60 pounds of copper wires into a custom water-cooled electromagnet. Thankfully, Luigi was there to guide me through the whole project and help me wind the electromagnet over a 2-month period. He taught me everything from how to use a waterjet for making jigs to using a blow torch for soldering water-cooling joints. I’m not sure if I could have finished that project without Luigi’s extensive support!
How has your background or experience prepared you to contribute to an environment where diversity and inclusion are valued?
I grew up in Toronto where almost everyone I knew was either first- or second-generation Canadian. So from a young age, I always celebrated and appreciated the cultural differences of those around me. It’s always been ingrained in me that gathering more opinions, especially from people who differ from me, adds a fresh perspective that I would otherwise be ignorant of.
What advice or insights do you have for new or prospective Maroons?
Absorb as much information from the people around you, especially people who study wildly different things than you. UChicago is a magnet for brilliant people. The PSD and the University do a great job of integrating students together via shared events and even shared buildings. I’ve learned and gotten helpful advice multiple times from chemists in neighboring labs to mine. Learning what different people and subfields find interesting is great for broadening your perspective. So go to events and absorb from other students!
What are your plans post-UChicago?
From day one, I’ve maintained an open mind on my future career plans since it’s difficult to predict where myself, my field, and industry will be in 6+ years. That being said, just as on my first day, I am strongly leaning toward doing a postdoc and potentially one day being a professor. Doing research and teaching people are two of my favorite things, so being a professor would be the best of both worlds.
If you could choose one word to describe the University of Chicago, what would it be?