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Faculty Spotlight: Richard Vasques

Where is your hometown?

I was raised in Porto Alegre, which is the southernmost state capital of Brazil, with a metro population of about 4.4 million. It is in the Pampas, a region that comprises the south of Brazil, part of Argentina, and Uruguay. Contrary to the tropical fame of Brazil, it gets pretty cold there—often below freezing in the winter.   

What is your field and what made you pursue it? (when you were going into university)

Officially, I am an applied mathematician—all my degrees are in applied mathematics. Generally speaking, I develop improved mathematical models and computer simulations of physical phenomena for which existent techniques are inadequate. As a faculty member of OSU’s Nuclear Engineering Graduate Program, I work in the area of radiation transport, which studies radiation interactions with matter. The range of applications and fascinating problems is really what hooked me, ever since the last year of my undergraduate studies.           

What brought you to Ohio State?

Ohio State is a huge university with cutting-edge research being done in several fields, which is very attractive from an interdisciplinary standpoint. The opportunity to join a highly successful nuclear engineering program in a place with a top engineering school really appealed to me. Plus, our students are excellent, and we have the opportunity to interact with undergraduates of different majors through our minor in nuclear engineering.    

What is the focus of your research and why is it significant?

I focus on fundamental research to model subatomic particle transport. Specifically, my group and I develop advanced techniques that improve our capabilities to simulate and understand complex systems in a variety of challenging scenarios. As abstract as that may sound, there are so many exciting problems and interesting applications in this field… not only in nuclear reactor physics, but also in atmospheric sciences, medical physics, space propulsion, and even in CGI for movies and videogames!

Why should a prospective student consider nuclear engineering?

Nuclear Engineering is the most interdisciplinary of all the engineering fields. You can be passionate about any area and find a treasure trove of interesting career paths in nuclear engineering: from policy making to space propulsion, from cancer treatment to climate change, from purely theoretical and computational to very hands-on experimental. It also does not hurt that all our NE graduates at OSU are sought-after by industry and government immediately after (and often before) getting their degrees. 

What do you like most about your job?

So many things! The interactions with students, both in teaching and in advising. The freedom for independent thinking and the flexibility to pursue exciting research. The collaborations with great minds from all over the World. Being a part of such an awesome, scientific-oriented community at OSU. I could keep going…

What advice would you give students considering a career in engineering?

Learn. Your. Math. Do not look at it as a “necessary evil”; math really is the language of the universe and the more proficient you are in it the better you will be as an engineer. 

What is one way you have spent any free time you have had during the pandemic?

With the lack of outdoor options I have been catching up on my gaming. I am currently playing Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which says a lot about how behind I am on things…