I am a first-generation, nontraditional student currently earning my Bachelor of Science in polymer science and engineering with a minor in chemistry from The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) where I expect to graduate in May of 2022. At USM, I work as an undergraduate researcher in the lab of Dr. Xiaodan Gu where I study conjugated polymer blends and specialize in X-ray diffraction techniques. In the of 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 studying the dewetting patterns of multi-layered polymer films.

In the fall of 2022, I will begin pursuing a PhD in materials science at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). While at Caltech, I am interested in investigating materials for wearable biological monitoring sensors and soft robotics. I hope to delve more deeply into problems facing the functionalization and scale-up of semiconducting polymers in the field of soft materials.


After earning a Ph.D. in polymer science or a related field, I plan to pursue a career in academia as a research professor and principal investigator in the field of soft devices and polymer electronics. It my goal to operate my own lab while teaching and inspiring the next generation of researchers and scientists.

I also have a passion for campus and community involvement and I'm currently the Chair of the Diversity Committee for USM’s Polymer Science Association, where I served as President for the 2020 year. I also serve 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.

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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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