Fellow Reflection: Alejandro Rodriguez
Field of Study: Condensed Matter Theory
Practicum: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Hometown: Miami, Fla.
A self-described drum-loving Cuban, Alejandro "Alex" Rodriguez was born in Havana and came to the United States at the age of 12. Valedictorian of his graduating class, he discovered his love for physics as a sophomore in high school. As an undergraduate, Alex attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and earned his bachelor's degree in physics in three years. He now studies condensed matter theory at MIT, working under advisors John D. Joannopoulos and Steven G. Johnson. Most recently, Alex's research – outlining a way to calculate the effects of a quantum mechanical force – was published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.
Outside of his research, Alex enjoys dancing (salsa, conga and guaguanco), watching studio era and pre-1990s films, playing the "celebrated and addictive 'Age of Empires'" game with friends, and strolling through Boston in search of interesting and special places.
Explain why you have an interest in computational science.
"Since I was an undergraduate, I had a strong interest in theoretical physics − specifically, I wanted to know how everything worked. At some point, after having taken a number of theoretical physics courses, I began to realize that some problems simply could not be solved by pen and paper alone, requiring more sophisticated models. Thus began my love of computational physics. If I had to state why I love computational science in a single sentence, it'd be the following: I love computational science because I love the idea of developing theoretical models that are both useful and efficient to implement in a computer, and capable of describing nature when it is most complicated."
Why did the DOE CSGF program appeal to you?
"The DOE CSGF program appealed to me due to its emphasis on excellence and support. Aside from the superb (and practically unmatched) benefits, the requirements of the program seemed to offer an incredible opportunity for intellectual and professional growth (through the program of study requirements, the practicum and the yearly conferences), and they certainly delivered!"
Explain the benefits you have received or positive experiences you have had in the DOE CSGF program.
"The DOE CSGF program has been, without a doubt, a major influence during my Ph.D. experience. My expectations of the program have not only been fulfilled, but surpassed. When I began the program, I did not imagine the amount of support I would receive from both staff and peers − most importantly, the strong sense of family and belonging that would ultimately arise between fellows. When I began to think about computational science as a possible career path, I had no idea that there was an entire community of people with similar interests. Thanks to this fellowship (the yearly student and invited talks, the constant stream of information, and the resulting strong professional network), I began appreciating the level of support (both from government and industry) for computational scientists. Feeling appreciated and supported has had a dramatic effect in my career."
Describe your career goal(s) in the computational science field.
"During the first year of my Ph.D., my focus was centered around the study of important classical electromagnetism techniques, most of which I studied in the context of nonlinear optics. The culmination of my work in this area was the development and application of these classical techniques to the field of quantum fluctuations, or Casimir forces. The application of these methods led to a number of computational methods which now allow calculation of Casimir forces in arbitrary geometries and materials, a dramatic change from the state of calculations just a few years ago. These new and general calculations have, not surprisingly, led also to interesting discoveries, including the discovery and validation of the first repulsive Casimir force between vacuum-separated dielectric objects, and of multi-body suspension."
"A related problem is that of computing the thermal radiation emanating from nanophotonic media. Like Casimir forces a few years ago, the thermal-radiation community has yet to develop robust computational methods to allow calculations in arbitrary geometries. My immediate goal is to develop computational techniques similar to those developed for Casimir force calculations, with the hope that calculations of interactions in these two different, yet related fields, can be described under similar computational frameworks. This should not only reveal new opportunities for discovery in currently intractable geometries, but also facilitate the exchange or application of ideas or techniques between the two communities."