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Graduate Student Profile
Justin Vazquez

Justin Vazquez

Hometown: Virginia Beach, VA
Degrees Sought: M.S., Ph.D. Nuclear Engineering
Department: Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering
Faculty Advisor: Dr. George Xu
Expected year of graduation: 2014

Leadership and Activities Experience:

  • American Nuclear Society Radiation Shielding and Shielding Division – Executive Committee Member (2012)
    • Served as an executive representative on the national committee
    • Attended conferences and gave input in division decisions
  • RPI MANE Department Student Advisory Council – Chair (2011-present)
    • Provided input on departmental decision-making regarding curriculum and faculty concerns
    • Authored constitutional By-Laws
    • Coordinated the visitation of guest speakers at department colloquia
  • RPI MANE Department Graduate Research Forum – Executive Officer (2011-present)
    • Coordinated and kept record at weekly seminars hosting student research presentations
    • Managed financial operations
  • William and Mary Massage Club – President (2007-2010)
    • Coordinated and taught lessons at weekly club meetings
    • Coordinated outreach programs including bi-monthly campus-wide events
  • William and Mary Shakespeare in the Dark – Vice President (2008-2010)
    • Assisted in coordinating monthly club meetings and semesterly performance operations

Previous Research/Internship Experience:

  • Fall, 2010 to Present – Rensselaer Radiation Measurement and Dosimetry Group
    • 3-D Modeling for Animated Radiation Transport/Dosimetry Simulation
    • Advisors: Dr. George Xu and Dr. Peter Caracappa
  • Summer, 2010 – University of Virginia, Virginia Microelectronics Consortium Summer Scholars Program
    • SiOX deposition in the Pentalevel technique for terahertz frequency-mixer fabrication
    • Advisor: Dr. Arthur Lichtenberger; Coordinator: Dr. Lloyd Harriot
  • Summer, 2009 – Hampton University Physics Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF-REU)
    • Fusion energy,  plasma physics and nonlinear magnetohydrodynamics, magnetic confinement barrier optimization in the ASDEX-UG tokamak
    • Advisors: Dr. Alkesh Punjabi and Dr. Halima Ali
  • Summer, 2008 – Hampton University Physics Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF-REU)
    • Linear/nonlinear surface plasmon-resonant  light absorption and refraction in nanoparticles
    • Advisors: Dr. Bagher Tabibi and Dr. Jae Tae Seo

Community Service:

  • Dog Care Assistant with the Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society (2011-Present)
  • Guest Lecturer, Science Fair Judge, and general service with the Green Run Elementary School Gifted and Science Departments (2005-Present)

Work Experience:

  • Winter, 2010 - Present: Blues Dance Instructor, Albany Swing Dancing
  • Summer/Winter 2005 - 2008: Assistant Manager, Forbes Candies Inc
  • April, 2005 - September, 2005: Server, Coldstone Creamery
  • 2004 - 2005: Cook/Server, New York Philly Pizza and Subs

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Fellowship (2010-2012)

Why did you choose to enroll at Rensselaer?
I first heard about RPI because of their ties to my undergraduate alma mater, The College of William and Mary, where I was working on my BS in Physics. Rensselaer had an esteemed Engineering Physics program, and after applying, I was recruited by their Nuclear Engineering program. My aspirations had always been towards working with alternative/clean energy production, and when I began to look more into traditional nuclear energy, I was very intrigued. I was invited to visit RPI shortly before graduating from William and Mary, and during my visit I was very impressed with the program, faculty, and students. The institute itself also proved very impressive, with its state-of-the art Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, and the toweringly impressive landmark that is EMPAC – one tour of RPI’s campus and you know that this is the kind of place you want to be. I was awarded the RPI Nuclear Regulatory Commission Fellowship, and enrolled in the Fall of 2010.

What are some benefits of being part of the Graduate Community at Rensselaer?
RPI is very dedicated to promoting effective graduate research and education, and they provide well for their graduate students. The Office of Graduate Education provides a wide array of resources and opportunities; I myself took advantage of the Navigating Graduate School and Beyond course offered in the Fall, as well of the travel grant system they have in place to support students who plan to take their research to a professional conference. The graduate students themselves are also a very cohesive unit, hosting a number of events throughout the semester, whether they be department-, school-, or institute-wide; I remember my first Spring, I attended a student-run lesson on how to make creative chocolates. Professionally and personally, graduate students are taken care of.

What would you tell a prospective student about choosing Rensselaer?
RPI might be a little off the radar for some, but it is a gem. Nestled in the Hudson Valley, halfway between Albany and Saratoga, it is an excellent institution lying in a community that is constantly on the rise. On and off campus, no matter what your research interest or personal interest, you will always find something to do, and you’ll always find a community of fellow scholars with you along the way.

Also, when you get here, be active! Graduate school does not need to be just about research and classes. Be a part of the community, take on leadership responsibilities, and get out there! I myself took on a leadership role as the Vice-Chair, and now the Chair of my department’s Student Advisory Council, and we have built a foundation for a council that serves as an example to student advocacy groups throughout the school. I have also taken a part in numerous research conferences – even some where I attended not as a presenter but as a student worker – and in doing so I have made professional connections that will be invaluable in years to come.

Describe your graduate research and its purpose/applications?
I work with the RPI Radiation Measurement and Dosimetry Group ( For years, our group has developed computational models of the human body used for radiation transport and dosimetry simulation. I have been working to adapt these models such that they can be postured and animated, and their movement synchronized with data obtained using a 3D motion capture system. This work will provide a great contribution to the field of Health Physics (i.e. Radiation Safety and Protection), allowing for the simulation of workers in an elevated-radiation environment and the development of virtual reality training tools that will assist in enhancing their safety in both standard occupational and accident conditions. Our research group is also doing work to expand the database of available dose information for patients undergoing medical procedures, as well as using GPU-based high-performance computing to speed up radiation transport calculation.

What are your plans following graduation?
After receiving my degree, I hope to eventually work for the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an organization that works to ensure that the nuclear industry abides by regulations and procedures put in place to protect workers, communities, and the environment. Immediately after graduation, I hope to enroll in the Nuclear Safety Professional Development Program (NSPDP). Otherwise I will likely work for a number of years as a health physicist, perhaps serving as the radiation safety officer for either an academic or industry institution, before eventually moving on to government work.

Professional affiliations:

  • American Nuclear Society
  • Health Physics Society

What are your hobbies/interests/special talents?
Here in the Albany/Troy area, I participate in the local Swing Dance scene, dancing at least one or two nights a week. Back in my undergraduate and high school studies, I did theatre for years, before I started dancing. I also volunteer as a dog care assistant at the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society, a local animal shelter. In my spare time, I play guitar, write poetry, hike, and enjoy selections from my large collection of DVDs. I have a pet cat and a pet snake, and I hope to be able to move to a larger apartment and own a dog sometime in the next couple of years.

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