Congratulations to Wake Physics alum Fernando Rigal, who was recently awarded a fellowship within the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP)! Fernando is now a PhD student in the Physics department of University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). In this interview, Fernando discusses how Wake helped him and what research he intends to conduct through the GRFP program.

What are you doing now career-wise?

Fernando: I am currently a physics PhD student at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). I work with Dr. Paul Selvin with projects involving NV Centers, Kinesin kinetics through super-resolution imaging, and super-resolution imaging of mice brain slices.

How did Wake Forest Physics help you get where you are today?

Fernando: I started out at Wake Forest wanting to do Pre-med and ultimately research under Dr. Kim-Shapiro changed my mind. I decided to pursue a career in physics research (particularly biophysics). That has tremendously helped get me to where I am today. Moreover, the rigor involved in the various undergrad courses I took definitely prepared me for the graduate courses I’d be eventually taking at UIUC.

Do you have an anecdote you would care to share from either your time at Wake Forest physics or from afterword relevant to Wake Physics?

Fernando: I guess a lot of what I remember from undergrad physics at Wake revolves around SPS and the various activities (I.e, board game nights, bbq, and movie nights amongst other).

Is there anything you would like to share with prospective or current students?

Fernando: I think finding a spot where you feel like you belong is extremely important. It doesn’t matter if this is an extracurricular (for me it was dungeons and dragons with friends) or if it’s a lab where you love the research that you do. Your mental state is a huge asset to progress in all facets of your undergrad/grad time at Wake! If you want to get started doing research I would reach out and join lab meetings first to make sure you feel like you belong and that it is what you want to pursue! ALSO, make sure you apply for summer fellowship positions (whether at wake or elsewhere) as it is important to widen your connections!

What research are you planning to conduct through the GRFP program?

Fernando: The research that I proposed for my GRFP application was fluorescent imaging of prostate cancer in live mice using NV centers as a novel probe. Since NV centers are sensitive to magnetic fields (triplet ground state), you can eliminate a lot of background fluorescence (the biggest problem involved with fluorescence imaging in live animals) by applying a magnetic field and detecting a change in the fluorescence (this is called Optically detected magnetic resonance). You can then eliminate any background by applying a lock-in detection mechanism.