Zachary Gavin

Chemical Engineering :: Sally and Louis Higger Town & Gown Scholar

Zachary’s chemical engineering career was launched at Saddleback College, where he was given the opportunity to work in a lab researching wearable synthetic kidneys as a more effective alternative to conventional dialysis. “My team and I worked to create a urease-microparticle solution that would be periodically replenished in a larger device to continuously process urine like a natural kidney. But when I joined the lab, they weren’t capturing data successfully because of poor laboratory techniques.” Zachary stepped in and led a restructuring of practices, which improved data outcomes. “A major component of this success was my redesign and fabrication of a rotary mixer that was critical in testing samples accurately.”

Zachary transferred to UC San Diego, where he joined a lab studying patches to treat skin wounds. His professor was impressed with Zach’s capabilities and suggested he lead his own project to create a dermal patch that utilized electrical readings of human skin to determine if cancer is present. “To do this, I had to research potential solutions, plan experiments, test results, design and then fabricate a device.” He’s at the prototype stage and the work continues.

Zach’s success to date has had to be self-driven. “I’m a first-generation college student. My mom has always been very supportive, but having little guidance has made learning the many social and institutional barriers in education similarly challenging to coursework.” Still, he’s helped his mother raise his two younger brothers since his stepfather left. “As they approach high school, I hope to help them enter college with direction and discipline. Half of the challenges in college are prioritizing and planning; I can’t pick their major, but I can try to make them show up to class on time with homework in hand.”

Zach also feels an obligation to assist socially and financially disadvantaged people, and plans to contribute in the field of portable medical devices by pursuing an M.S. and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. “I feel that as a researcher, there is great power and responsibility to solve problems that have never been attempted. From my experience with affordable and portable medical devices, I feel that increasing access to healthcare is foremost amongst these causes.

“For people with few resources, medical care provides the ability to pursue opportunities beyond survival, like education. Education allows people to internally develop solutions to build their communities, progressively increasing the world’s quality of life. In attempting to help my own community, I cannot ignore the enormous amount of help that I have received and will continue to receive in my education. Thus, I hope to also extend my abilities and resources to students to assist a new generation of researchers.”

Zachary is pursing the BS/MS contiguous program in chemical engineering at UC San Diego. He plans to utilize the Sally and Louis Higger Town & Gown Scholarship to pay tuition.

Zachary Gavin