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Postcard from Brazil: UBC student brings laser experiment to Rio de Janeiro

Prior to starting my PhD in physics this September, I was given the opportunity to collaborate on a hydrogen spectroscopy experiment with Claudio Lenz Cesar at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) for four months. My UBC supervisor Dr. David Jones informed me about the Mitacs Globalink Research Award, which made this experience possible.

I knew I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity but I was still scared.  When I arrived in Rio de Janeiro, I had no idea what to expect. It was my first trip to South America, I didn’t speak any Portuguese, and I only knew my Brazilian supervisor, whom I’d met once before.

After I landed, I was greeted at the airport and taken to UFRJ and then to my apartment in Santa Teresa, an old neighbourhood on a hill. Once I looked out my window and saw the view of the bay and Sugarloaf Mountain, I realized just where I was. It was amazing.

Rio de Janeiro was the biggest city I’d lived in and I had to learn to make my way around safely. So I knew there would be many new challenges over the next four months. I brought my laser experimental set-up with me from UBC and re-building it and making it work in new working conditions was the biggest challenge of all.

The laser source is an infrared laser, which is frequency doubled twice to make the ultraviolet light required to study the 1S-2S, the energy transition of hydrogen. The LASER group at UFRJ developed a new cryogenic hydrogen source. They will use my laser to perform precision spectroscopy of the 1S-2S transition, which has the potential to be the most precise measurement yet.

I have been here for three months now and have been challenged every day as I solve new problems in my lab and adapt to Brazilian life. The best part of my experience has been meeting my wonderful Brazilian friends, both in and outside my lab. I am very grateful for the opportunity to work and live in a country that is so different from Canada and get exposure to new ideas and research methods.


Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec their support of the Globalink Research Award program. In addition, Mitacs is pleased to work with international partners to support this award, including Campus France and Inria, India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Mission Universitaire de Tunisie en Amerique du Nord.