How did you become interested in science?
I was interested in science from a very early age. My father is a chemical engineer and my mother a bacteriologist, so I grew up surrounded by technology and science books. Among them was a huge science and engineering encyclopedia that I loved to open and read at random spots. I have fond memories of my dad reading me chapters from his college chemistry books in the evenings.
One day when I was 7 or 8, my father came back from a trip with two gifts: a set for doing experiments with electricity, and another set for chemistry experiments. We spent a lot of time doing experiments together with the kits, and with lab glassware that he had kept from his college days. I still remember vividly my dad setting up a working petroleum distillation rig in the bathroom to teach me about how gasoline is made, which was very exciting.
After that, my parents let me set up a lab/workshop in a spare room in the apartment where I grew up. I made plenty of scary “experiments,” often involving fire and dangerous chemicals. I also loved playing with electricity and disassembling old household appliances and electronic devices to learn how they worked and to build stuff with the parts.
What was your educational path?
I earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering in my native Colombia. I knew I didn’t want to work as a traditional engineer at a company, so I found an internship in an optics lab in France, where I was first introduced to real R&D work. After that, I was lucky to be invited by my university in Colombia to work at Fermilab, which is the largest Department of Energy particle physics lab in the U.S. There, I was exposed to how fundamental science is done on a very large scale. Working at a place like that had been a childhood dream of mine, and it was an unforgettable experience. That convinced me that I had to go to grad school, so I left Fermilab to pursue a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, followed by postdoctoral training in Steve Quake’s lab at Stanford.
What brought you to CZ Biohub?
Steve Quake and Joe DeRisi invited me to be part of the CZ Biohub while they were still working on getting it off the ground. I decided to accept the offer because it felt like my dream job, and I have always enjoyed working with Steve and Joe. Teaming up with incredibly smart people to solve very interesting problems at the frontier of science, with great financial resources and a tight connection with three of the best universities in the U.S., is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
In my free time, I love spending time with my wife, hiking, swimming, skiing, backpacking, and occasionally building and flying model airplanes. I’m addicted to reading general history, history of science, science fiction, and the news.
- B.S. – Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia
- M.S. – Purdue University
Electrical Engineering (Microelectronics)
- Ph.D. – Purdue University
Electrical Engineering (MEMS/Microfabrication/Microfluidics)
- Postdoc – Stanford
Focused on using microfluidics to automate cell culture and cell-based experiments