Space travel and exploration have been interests of PhD student Zachary Estlack since he was a kid. Now, his research is focused on micro/nanosystems development for space exploration. Specifically, he is currently working on the development of a highly sensitive and automated chemical analyzer for searching for signs of life in outer space.

Estlack grew up tinkering with household items, building BMX jumps, and helping his dad on computer programming projects for fun. This made engineering a natural fit and eventually led him to focus on microfluidics, the manipulation of small volumes of fluids for a variety of applications.

“Microfluidics is uniquely positioned for space-bound systems,” said Estlack. “By design, it requires small volumes of samples, low-power consumption, and a small footprint, all of which are important. The idea of having
something I have personally fabricated or a derivative of a design I made going into space is incredibly exciting.”

Working in Dr. Jungkyu (Jay) Kim’s Biomedical micro/nanodevice lab has given Estlack the opportunity to learn a wide range of skills beyond just those highlighted in his research work. One example is working to recreate
organs on tiny microfluidic devices, which could replace animal testing with more accurate and cheaper platforms. This could also provide testing that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. Through this, Estlack has learned biology, anatomy, cell culture techniques, and organic chemistry.

“Zachary’s multidisciplinary project requires knowledge on micro/nanofabrication, control, and fluid mechanics, all of which are a great fit for his strengths. With his dedication and engineering knowledge, I am confident that he will be a leader in micro/nanosystems field and be a great representative of the U’s engineering program,” said Dr. Kim.

Visit the Biomedical Micro-Nano Systems lab website to learn more