Chemistry Graduate Student Olivia Fiebig describes her research and answers 20 random questions as part of the Graduate Student Spotlight series.
Olivia Fiebig first came to MIT as a participant in a Research Experience for Undergraduates program sponsored by the Materials Research Laboratory during the summer of 2015. She returned to pursue her PhD in chemistry the following year, in August 2016. Originally from a small, rural town in southern New Jersey called Alloway, Olivia has always been interested in science and teaching. She initially intended to become a high school chemistry teacher, but upon joining her undergraduate advisor’s lab, she discovered a love of biophysical chemistry research and wanted to pursue research and teaching chemistry at the college level.
As a member of Professor Gabriela Schlau-Cohen‘s lab, Olivia uses ultrafast spectroscopy to study photosynthetic energy transfer in purple bacteria. The light harvesting steps of photosynthesis are very efficient, and she is working to figure out how the membrane environment and variation in light-harvesting complexes found in purple bacteria influence these energy transfer pathways and timescales, resulting in such a high efficiency. Understanding what makes organisms like purple bacteria so good at harvesting solar energy can help to build better artificial solar energy devices.
As the subject of this month’s Graduate Student Spotlight, Olivia shares the most interesting documentary she’s seen, the movie she’d take to watch on a loop for a 27 hour flight, the best vacation she’s ever taken, and more!
- What game or movie universe would you most like to live in? What would be the worst to live in?
I would want to live in the world of Avatar the Last Airbender so I could have epic bending skills and ride sky bison. The worst universe to live in would be that of the Witcher- too many monsters and violent killing for me!
- What’s the most interesting documentary you’ve ever watched?
The Last Blockbuster- it was very surreal to realize something that I enjoyed and took for granted as a child is basically extinct now. It is a great reminder how fast technology changes- gone are the days of video cassettes and DVDs. Everything is streamed from the Internet now.
- If you were on a 27 hour flight and could only watch one movie, what would it be?
Titanic- It’s three hours long and one of my favorites. I wouldn’t mind watching it nine times on the flight! And there was definitely room on that door.
- What bit of trivia do you know that is very interesting but also very useless?
Southern New Jersey once voted to secede from New Jersey and form two independent states: North Jersey and South Jersey. Honestly, I don’t think this would be a bad idea- the two halves of the state are very different from each other! (And South Jersey is way better!)
- What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
Disney World in 2016 before grad school. I am a huge Disney fan! We stayed at Port Orleans French Quarter and they had amazing beignets. It was fun to relax with family before moving to Cambridge. Unfortunately, our 2020 trip got cancelled because of the pandemic, but I am hoping to go again after both my sister and I finish grad school.
- What are some small things that make your day better?
Lunches with my labmates, chatting with Brian Pretti in the basement, and playing harmless pranks on my labmates (or getting pranked myself!)
- What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?
New Jersey culture and Wawa (the best convenience store in existence).
- What is something that a ton of people are obsessed with but you just don’t get the point of?
Coffee! I have never liked it, and I have proudly made it through grad school so far without it. My labmates know that I’m a hot chocolate person!
- What’s worth spending more on to get the best?
Quality sneakers. Anyone who has been to the basement probably recognizes me walking around all day. I don’t own a car, so I walk most places in the city. I can easily log 15,000 steps, sometimes even 20,000. I learned that my feet and knees really appreciate quality sneakers!
- What is special about the place you grew up?
My town is in New Jersey, but it is rural. The nearest store is at least a five-mile drive away. I wasn’t able to get high-speed Internet until I was in college. Getting stuck behind a tractor or waiting for cows to cross the road are both common and valid reasons for being late. We even have our own rodeo! We are a tight-knit community and very supportive of each other.
- If you could pick any career other than the one you’ve chosen, what would it be?
Ice cream quality control (i.e. taste tester)
- Where is the most interesting place you’ve been?
In 9th grade, I won a trip to see space shuttle Discovery launch at midnight at Cape Canaveral. We had VIP seating near the Saturn V exhibit. Most amazing experience of my life!
- What movie, picture, or video always makes you laugh no matter how often you watch it?
The Princess Bride- it’s such a classic and quotable film!
- What food do you crave most often?
Anyone who truly knows me knows that I am addicted to ice cream. I will eat it in any season, weather, and almost every day!
- 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?
Having your own apartment – turns out they’re a lot of work to keep up with!
- An epic feast is held in your honor, what’s on the table?
Wawa hoagies, New Jersey pizza (I’m sorry, Boston, but your pizza is not good), Philly cheesesteaks, and ice cream!
- What hobby would you get into if time and money weren’t an issue?
I want to learn how to play the organ! I already play the piano and love it, and I am amazed by people who can play the organ. Two hands are challenging enough, let alone two hands and two feet!
- What would be your ideal way to spend the weekend?
Explore Boston during the day, eat a delicious Italian dinner, and end with eating ice cream and watching movies.
- What problem or situation did TV / movies make you think would be common, but when you grew up you found out it wasn’t?
Getting shoved into a locker in high school- turns out the lockers at my high school were way too narrow for that to even be possible.
- What piece of entertainment do you wish you could erase from your mind so that you could experience for the first time again?
The Marvel films- I hadn’t seen most of them, so I binge-watched them during the pandemic. Thankfully there are more coming out soon!
Many thanks to Olivia for these thoughtful answers! Stay tuned for more Graduate Student Spotlights in the months to come!