Manuel Rivas

School of Engineering – Material Science and Engineering

Research Projects: Attempting to measure the force of individual medicinal radiation particles using Atomic Force Microscopy/Measuring microelectromechanical systems using AFM

When Manuel Rivas was just 15, his father lost a hard-fought battle with cancer. As the oldest child, Manuel promised his father to take care of the family and to make him proud. By pursuing his Ph.D., he plans to make good on both of those promises.

Manuel is currently working on research that pushes Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) to new limits. He is attempting to measure the force of medicinal radiation particles using AFM, something that has never been done before.

“It is my hope that my research will help make radiation therapy more effective and less damaging to the patient,” he explains. His father’s battle with cancer was his inspiration.

Manuel is already breaking AFM boundaries. “I would really like to break medical boundaries as well,” he says.

He hopes to do that in a few ways—1) By determining how much radiation energy gets absorbed by the cancer cell and how much of that energy is damaging healthy cells, and 2) By using AFM to watch what happens to cells when exposed to radiation in real time.

From McAllen, Texas, Manuel served his country in the U.S. Marine Corps before earning his bachelor’s degree in physics at the University of Texas Pan American in May, 2012. While at UT-Pan Am, he was president of the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity, the Society of Physics Students, and the Aikido Club.

Since coming to UConn, Manuel has put his skill with an atomic force microscope to use in several research projects, including his groundbreaking work with radiation. He has also been working with the Army Research Lab using AFM to measure microelectromechanical systems for potential use in the military. In addition, he worked on a team trying to develop a nanoparticle-based drug delivery system to eliminate cancer stem cells. And he has been using high-speed AFM (in fact, the fastest in the nation) to image magnetic information in hard drives in an effort to optimize their performance.

Although plenty busy in the lab, Manuel is also a member of the Materials Research Society, the American Ceramics Society, and the Gamma Sigma Alpha National Academic Greek Honor Society. In his free time, he enjoys riding his motorcycle, playing guitar, reading and drawing.

In addition to continuing his work in cancer research, Manuel’s long-term goals involve inspiring young people to pursue careers in the STEM fields.

“The world needs more bright young minds to go into the sciences to tackle humanity’s biggest problems,” he relates.

Earning his Ph.D. will allow him to accomplish those goals—and keep the promises he made to his father.

Manuel Rivas
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