From VCU Engineering to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Miguel Toro, Ph.D.
Photo courtesy of Miguel Toro, Ph.D.

Miguel Toro, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’18)
Research and Development Associate
Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Miguel Toro, Ph.D., came from Colombia to earn his doctorate in mechanical and nuclear engineering at the VCU College of Engineering. His adviser was associate professor Jessika Rojas, Ph.D.

Why did you choose VCU Engineering for your Ph.D.?

Because it was a unique opportunity for professional development that was brought to me when I was looking for a career change. Back in 2014, I had graduated from [the National University of Columbia] and started working as a project manager in a manufacturing company. My undergraduate mentor suggested I consider a Ph.D. in mechanical and nuclear engineering when I mentioned that I was not happy or motivated in my job. I did not know anything about nuclear [engineering], however. Both my undergraduate mentor, as well as Dr. [Jessika] Rojas at VCU, shared interesting ideas and information about nuclear science that made a strong impression on me. It was clear that VCU Engineering offered a unique opportunity to combine both mechanical and nuclear engineering and would be a great place to develop my new passion for nuclear science.

How did VCU Engineering help you advance your research?

VCU Engineering provided the optimal environment to increase my knowledge and develop a variety of skills. The diversity of faculty specialties and course options allowed me to learn about a range of topics, all taught by experts. The laboratory spaces and research facilities contributed to the development of my research skills and significantly helped with experiments that supported my dissertation. In addition, the workshops and events hosted by VCU Engineering helped me improve my writing and communication skills and were a great platform to interact and network with other students.

Tell us about your role at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

My role at Oak Ridge National Laboratory involves performing experiments, analyzing data and leading technical staff. I am also involved in applying for funding and mentoring students. Currently, I am working on a couple of projects that involve the development of nanomaterials and production of isotopes for cancer treatment. I lead the synthesis and characterization of nanomaterials, as well as assessment for their final application. I am also supporting a project that studies the effect of ionizing radiation on different cancer cell lines and alternative approaches to enhance the killing effect of ionizing radiation. The latter project has been a significant learning experience for me, since I did not have cell biology experience before joining the laboratory.

What do you like to do outside the lab?

I like to travel and spend time with my wife, family and friends. I enjoy cooking, watching movies and listening to music. I keep fit by running and biking outdoors and swimming with my wife.

Fun fact: I did not choose biology or medicine for college, but here I am working with cells and working on radiopharmaceuticals for medical applications.