Roxanne Walker portrait

Roxanne Walker honored with Towner Prize from Michigan Engineering

The award reflects Roxanne’s exceptional academic performance, active participation in research, and leadership qualities.

Roxanne Walker, a fifth-year PhD student in the Nuclear Engineering & Radiological Sciences department, has received the Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Prize for Distinguished Academic Achievement from Michigan Engineering. This award is presented to an outstanding graduate student in each degree program, and reflects Roxanne’s exceptional academic performance, active participation in research, and leadership qualities.

Roxanne’s journey in nuclear engineering began during her undergraduate years here at U-M, where she graduated with honors, including Summa Cum Laude, with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering in Nuclear Engineering & Radiological Sciences. The introductory nuclear engineering course sparked her interest, revealing the extensive opportunities the field offered.

During her undergraduate studies, Roxanne began research at Prof. John Foster’s Plasma Science and Technology Laboratory (PSTL), focusing on plasma-based environmental work. This research continued into graduate school, where she is currently researching atmospheric pressure and low-temperature plasmas for environmental remediation applications, including water purification and polymer functionalization for upcycling.

“Without exaggeration, I can plainly state that Roxanne is an awesome graduate student—one that I am blessed to have had the pleasure to work with,” said Prof. Foster. “What’s remarkable about Roxanne is not just her excellent academic preparation, but it’s her work ethic, drive and desire to help others.”

A key focus of Roxanne’s research is improving the delivery of plasma-produced reactive species to water, enhancing the efficiency of plasma water purification systems. Despite challenges in scaling up to real-world applications, her work shows promise for addressing contaminants like PFAS.


“A big research focus of mine is studying ways to improve the delivery of plasma-produced reactive species to the water to improve the efficiency of plasma water purification systems,” Roxanne said, “as they could become important for the destruction of difficult-to-remove contaminants, such as PFAS, but are currently limited in ability to scale up to real-world systems.”

Roxanne is president of Fourth State, which she co-founded with Prof. Foster and Joe Groele, a former student from Prof. Foster’s research group. The company is dedicated to bringing their plasma water treatment devices to market, addressing water contamination issues. 

“Roxanne has been the driving force behind the inception and early organization of Fourth State—including the development of the business canvas and weekly interactions with the start-up mentor assigned by the Center for Innovation,” said Prof. Foster. “With her critical leadership, the company has been able to garner two grants from the federal government, a Small Business Technology Transfer grant from the Department of Agriculture and a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”

Throughout her academic journey, Roxanne actively engaged with various student and outreach groups in the department and at the College, including the American Nuclear Society (ANS), the Graduate Student Council (GSC), and Women in Nuclear (WIN), where she currently serves as a board member as treasurer. She was one of the facilitators for NERS’s contribution to the Detroit area pre-college engineering program (DAPCEP). This work involved developing nuclear engineering-related tutorials for in-person education help typically on the weekends. She has served as one of the leaders of the U-M Women in the Michigan Institute for Plasma Science and Engineering. She also served as a delegate to the United Nations climate conference COP28, held in the UAE, for the American Nuclear Society.

Roxanne Pinsky-Walker

Alongside her research and involvement in student organizations, Roxanne enjoys teaching, serving as an instructor in various NERS department classes. A position usually held by graduate students, Roxanne was the teaching assistant for the introductory nuclear energy class as an undergraduate, owing to her mastery of the subject matter and her skills as a teacher. The instructor, NERS Chair Todd Allen, made a special request for her to serve as the teaching assistant a second time because of her excellent reviews. 

Roxanne’s hands-on experience includes internships at prestigious institutions. As a Graduate Student Intern at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, she modeled neutral gas flow in hollow cathodes, and validated these simulations experimentally. In her undergraduate years, Roxanne interned at Los Alamos National Laboratory, working on proton accelerator technology, and later at the Idaho National Laboratory in the Nuclear Sciences and Technology Division.

With a diverse range of experiences and unwavering commitment to advancing nuclear engineering, Roxanne stands as a dedicated and accomplished individual poised to make significant contributions to her field.

Learn more about PFAS research being done by Roxanne and others at U-M here

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