Top Physics Researcher

USF student receives admission to top physics programs and hopes his future work will “find solutions to biological problems.”


Ruiz built this MOKE spectrometer using a $16 closet organizer from Walmart and some black plastic bags.


By Abbey Hafer
Special to USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (April 25, 2013) University of South Florida physics major Ramon Alejandro Ruiz is headed off to California this summer to pursue his doctorate degree at the University of California, Berkeley, one of top physics programs around.


Not only is Berkeley offering Ruiz the very competitive and prestigious Berkeley Chancellor’s Fellowship, the school wanted him to start early. Instead of the traditional fall admission, Berkeley asked Ruiz to begin his research there almost immediately after he graduates from USF.


“My mom was so excited she couldn’t stop crying for days,” Ruiz said with a smile. “She is so proud.”


Ruiz also was accepted to a host of competitive doctoral programs across the country, including Cornell University, Yale University, Carnegie Mellon University, Brown University, Penn State University and the University of Florida, all offering him full Ph.D. fellowships. However, he decided to continue his studies at UC Berkeley, hoping it will lead to a career as an academic physicist.


“I am so honored to be the first student from the USF physics department to be accepted into any of the top 10 Physics programs,” Ruiz said. “Once I’ve obtained my Ph.D. in experimental condensed matter physics, I would like to work as a faculty member in an academic institution, where I can apply physics principles to find solutions to biological problems.”


Ruiz, a Cuba native, came to the United States as a political refugee just five years ago, the week after he graduated high school. While working on his A.A. in physics at Miami-Dade College, he also learned English.


Ruiz came to USF because of its research opportunities and smaller class sizes that would allow him the opportunity to work more closely with professors.


Ruiz always was interested in cancer-related research, but it wasn’t until he took a modern physics class that his professor, Hariharan Srikanth asked him to join his research group. This was where Ruiz became interested in the applications of material science, magnetism and nanotechnology.


Ruiz has demonstrated his strong commitment to research, which is evident in his extensive list of peer-reviewed publications, conference presentations, scholarships and awards.


In addition, he’s proven to be very innovative – he designed and built his own MOKE spectrometer. While the optical elements and magnets were purchased from a company, Ruiz assembled and calibrated it, and built the instrument’s housing out of a $16 closet organizer from Walmart and black trash bags.


“I don’t compare him to other undergraduates, I compare him to other Ph.D. students,” said Manh-Huong Phan, Ruiz’s research adviser.


Ruiz’s laboratory work is primarily dedicated to the development of a new generation of magnetic sensors, with possible applications in the chemical, biological and medical sciences.


“Nanoscale science opens new and exciting opportunities, specifically, their applications in the detection and treatment of cancer cells,” Ruiz explained. “Current cancer treatments are invasive and primitive, affecting both healthy and cancerous cells.”


Ruiz’s research aims to tailor new techniques that will allow for the detection of single cancer cells using magnetic nanoparticles and microwires. Nanotechnology, the manipulation of matter at atomic or molecular level, is incredibly challenging to work with, requiring extreme precision and meticulousness. The microwires Ruiz works with are thinner than a human hair.


“I have loved every minute of my work,” Ruiz said. “Especially the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research areas and engage in exciting discussions with senior students and researchers. I am grateful for the influence of my supervisors and the experience I’ve gotten from my laboratory research at USF.”