A man smiles in a snowy road.

Graduate Student Spotlight: Ezra Alexander

Categories: Research, Students

Chemistry Graduate Student Ezra Alexander describes his research and answers 20 random questions as part of the Graduate Student Spotlight series.

Ezra Alexander began his graduate career at MIT in the Fall of 2020, and is originally from just outside Washington, D.C.. As a member of Professor Troy Van Voorhis’ group, Ezra’s research is in Theoretical Chemistry. He has worked on using density functional theory to study the electronic structure of various InP quantum dots and the impact of various surface defects on the formation of photoluminescence-limiting localized trap states. Ezra’s original research interests were actually in Mathematics, but he found that the math questions felt too removed from real-world problems, and so theoretical chemistry was a great balance.

As the subject of this month’s Graduate Student Spotlight, Ezra shares the bit of very interesting, yet useless, trivia he knows, the subject he could give a 40 minute presentation on without any preparation, the invention he feels deserves more credit, and more!

  1. What game or movie universe would you most like to live in? What would be the worst to live in?
    I’m a big sucker for your classic fantasy world, such as those in Dungeons & Dragons or Skyrim. But there is certainly a fine line when it comes to fantasy. Dark Souls? No thank you.
  2. What bit of trivia do you know that is very interesting but also very useless?
    I had a phase where I was really into the Mongolian Empire. Did you know that the average Mongolian warrior had (relatively) great dental hygiene because their diet has such a high meat-to-carbs ratio
  3. What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
    The Galapagos Islands. Hands down.
  4. What are some small things that make your day better?
    Drinking a lot of water. I know I sound like your mom when I say this, but once you try the well-hydrated life you never look back.
  5. What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?
    Oh man. Lots of things, all of them super nerdy video games and the like. Without (overly) embarrassing myself? How about my D&D campaign?
  6. What is special about the place you grew up?
    Museums! The Smithsonian is all free. I used to go to the Natural History museum on a weekly basis. And don’t get me started on the National Zoo …
  7. What did you think you would grow out of but haven’t?
    My entire personality.
  8. What irrational fear do you have?
    I wouldn’t really call it a fear, but I’ve had this weird phobia of stickers ever since I was a kid. I just don’t want them on me and the thought makes my skin crawl. Your guess is as good as mine.
  9. If you could have a never-ending candle that smelled like anything you wanted, what fragrance would you want it to be?
    I got this cinnamon apple pie candle in college that I would burn pretty much daily. It was a little pleasure that brought something nice to some less-than-nice days.
  10. What was your favorite book as a child, and what is your favorite book now?
    As a child, I spent pretty much all my time reading. It’s honestly hard to pick, but at risk of sounding a little basic, my favorite was probably the Percy Jackson series. Now?  I still read a lot. If I had to pick one I’d probably go with the less orthodox choice of The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. It’s a graphic novel, originally a DC comic but it got so good that it sorta just started doing its own thing after a while. Check it out.
  11. If you could pick any career other than the one you’ve chosen, what would it be?
    As a kid, I wanted to be a zookeeper. Still sounds awesome now, honestly.
  12. What invention doesn’t get a lot of love, but has greatly improved the world?
    I’m going to have to go with the ballpoint pen. Pencils suck.
  13. What food do you crave most often?
    I’m lactose intolerant, but not a day goes by that I don’t miss calzones.
  14. As a child, what did you think would be awesome about being an adult, but isn’t as awesome as you thought it would be?
    Being able to legally drink, I think. Not necessarily because it’s bad now, but just because alcohol looked so much cooler before I knew what it tasted like.
  15. An epic feast is held in your honor, what’s on the table?
    I don’t have a real answer for this one, I just really like the question. Pie?
  16. What is the most heartwarming thing you’ve ever seen?
    I have two cats (how did I go this long without mentioning them?) and they’re amazing. One of them is really shy but sometimes she’ll curl up under the covers with me in the morning and every time I almost cry.
  17. What skill would you like to master?
    I’ve spent the last year learning how to cook! I feel like I’ve gotten the basics down and I can follow a recipe but I would love to learn how to just pick some ingredients and come up with something tasty on the fly.
  18. What piece of entertainment do you wish you could erase from your mind so that you could experience for the first time again?
    I have this weird thing where I can’t watch shows/movies, read books, or play games more than once, so I have a lot of possible answers to this one. But I am going to have to go with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Despite what 13-year-old Ezra might have thought, it isn’t a perfect game, but there was something magical about getting lost in that huge, beautiful world for the first time.
  19. What would be the best thing you could reasonably expect to find in a cave?
    A bear! Not that I would personally want to find one, but they’re awesome and you can definitely find them in caves.
  20. What animal or plant do you think should be renamed, and what should the new name be?
    Eggplant. I just don’t get it. I guess the word ‘Aubergine’ is fine, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Many thanks to Ezra for these thoughtful answers! Stay tuned for more Graduate Student Spotlights in the months to come!