I am a first-generation, nontraditional student.

I am currently pursuing a PhD in Materials Science from the California Institute of Technology in the lab of Dr. Katherine Faber. In the Faber group, I am excited to broaden my expertise in material strengthening and mechanics - and I look forward to developing new methods of additive manufacturing via reaction bonding of dense and high temperature materials. After earning my PhD, I plan to pursue a career in academia as a research professor and principal investigator in the field of dynamic and multi-functional materials. It my goal to operate my own lab while supporting diversity and equity in the next generation of researchers and scientists.


I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Polymer Science and Engineering and a minor in Chemistry from The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) in May of 2022. At USM, I worked as an undergraduate researcher in the lab of Dr. Xiaodan Gu where I studied conjugated polymer blends and specialized in X-ray diffraction techniques. In the summer 2021, I worked as an intern in the research group of Dr. Reika Katsumata at The University of Massachusetts Amherst where my project involved the dewetting patterns of polymer films.

I also have a passion for campus and community involvement, and I recently served as the Chair of the Diversity Committee for USM’s Polymer Science Association, where I also served as President for the 2020 year. Additionally, I have served as President of The Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering (USM Chapter), Vice President of USM’s Honors College Ambassadors, and a member of the Mississippi Council for the Blind. On the rare occasion that I have free time, I enjoy playing piano, swimming, and writing poetry.

Zachary Ahmad
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My Story

I was raised by my grandparents in a rural town in Mississippi. Both of my grandparents, along with my younger sister, suffered from congenital eye conditions that left them legally blind. As the only person in the household with unimpaired vision, I was responsible for handling many aspects of our lives from a young age. Aiding my family in many of the most mundane of daily tasks fells to me. This responsibility delayed me from pursuing higher education after high school. In 2014, at the age of 20, I began studying at USM but withdrew after only one semester due to family hardships. I regretted this decision and was determined to return to college, so in 2018, I reapplied and began my second attempt at earning a bachelor's degree.


Hoping to make the most of this rare opportunity, upon my return, I decided to pursue an especially challenging degree in Polymer Science and Engineering. As a child, I was never the most gifted in science and did not think I had the intellectual capabilities to pursue a career in STEM. However, after returning, I was able to build a strong foundation in mathematics and chemistry, and – most importantly – discover my love of research. The circuitous path that led me to where I am academically continues to inspire my journey to become a research scientist.

Zachary Ahmad
Zachary Ahmad


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