Why did you choose electrical engineering as a major?
Actually, I started in physics in a 5-year Master’s program. Due to the timing, I started my first graduate classes in spring quarter, which meant that I had gone straight into the highest level of graduate courses for the physics program. So I was surrounded by PhD students and many top students from around the world, whereas I was more of a solid-state condensed matter kind of guy. I didn’t do super well, but I was taking electrical engineering classes as an elective and getting A’s.
I was taking a photonics course just for fun, and I developed a pretty good relationship with my professor. I ended up contacting the chair of the department at the time and was allowed to switch over to the Electrical Engineering department. It aligned really well with my previous interests in applied physics, and since the field has such a broad scope today, I believe this will be a benefit in the long-run too.
What do you do now?
Now, I work at a start-up company called Two Pore Guys, which was actually formed from an initial IP created at UC Santa Cruz in the Baskin School of Engineering. I was the 21st employee, and now we’re in excess of 80—about 70% of the company is UC Santa Cruz alumni. I manage a team that does research and development for a hand-held, disposable medical diagnostic device that can detect single molecules. You can think of it as a very similar concept to a blood glucose monitor, but instead of only being capable of a single test, we can test for certain proteins, DNA, molecules, bacteria, viruses; it’s really, really exciting medical technology.
Did you ever think you’d end up in the medical field?
Never—I thought I’d probably end up working with nanotechnology and semi-conductor physics to be honest. When you get into grad school, though, you end up doing whatever it is that the person you want to work with is doing. So when I started working with my advisor Professor Ali Yanik, it involved cell-sorting devices, which is in the realm of medical diagnostics. The work that I did in that group lead me to meeting those in Two Pore Guys, where I do the same sort of design work, but in a more commercial setting. If you had talked to me three years ago, I doubt I would’ve expected I’d end up where I am, but I’d wager most people would say the same about where their career takes them.
What’d you like best about being a Banana Slug?
I like being able to ride my bike outside of my door and having the beauty of the campus all around me. I’ve also had a lot of experiences going and visiting other schools like Berkeley or Stanford, and those schools have such a prominent reputation that students seem to end up fighting among one another to measure up to this reputation. Here at UC Santa Cruz, though, people are more encouraged to invest in their self-confidence, and they aren’t looking to push others out of the way to get what they want. You have to put in the hard work to develop yourself, not beat others; and it creates a community of a lot of very confident and capable students.