Staff Spotlight: Kevin Nichols

I am interested in using analytical chemistry tools to better understand the world, and find it fun to build tools and develop new ways of doing so. 

Q: What is your background and what led you to where you are now?

A: Overall, I am interested in using analytical chemistry tools to better understand the world, and find it fun to build tools and develop new ways of doing so. My doctoral training was in biological engineering, where I measured enzymatic reaction rates to better understand how they work. Later, as a post doc at the University of Chicago, I worked in diagnostics where I quantified how much of a specific disease biomarkers was present in a sample.

I have a strong desire to deeply probe into how something works and although my early research experience was focused on biological systems, I was later able to apply my experience with devices for diagnostics to the field of nuclear chemistry at Argonne National Lab. My work there was primarily focused on analytical chemistry related to nuclear fuel systems.

At IV Lab, I continue to do similar types of work, now researching and designing microfluidic systems for global health applications. Currently, I am focused on measuring biomarkers for diseases, specifically malaria. I am looking for disease markers for two malaria parasites, Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax, to increase sensitivity of lateral flow assays for malaria diagnostics.

(Fun fact: the sign for engineer in American Sign Language is based on the sign for measure; measure+agent adds a person ending to the verb form of the sign measure.) 

Q: What inspires you most about what you do?

A: I am inspired to do something that is ambitious with the prospect of it being something useful for the world and impacting people in a positive way.

Q: What do you do at IV Lab?

A: I work on experimental design for flow based diagnostic projects. I design experiments and think through how we can quickly determine whether an idea will work or not and how we can design the experiment to have a conclusive answer. The projects I work on at IV Lab are generally multidisciplinary and require work using biotechnology tools, biochemistry, antibodies, as well as hardware design, software design, mechanical and electromechanical design. As a project lead, I need to know enough to see the big picture and see how all of the pieces come together.

Q: What makes working at the Lab unique?

A: IV Lab is one of the few places in the world that can do the work we are doing. By working closely with Global Good, we are able to draw on resources normally reserved for commercial pursuits in the developed world and are able to avoid many of the funding challenges that traditional universities, non-profits, or corporate research facilities face. We are able to take on unique challenges outside of normal market needs and develop inventions for low-resource settings with the opportunity to make an impact on the lives of individuals.

Q: What was an important influence along your path?

A: I’ve had a very linear and direct career path from high school through to today. In fact, my first real job in high school was in a yeast molecular biology lab at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, which led directly to an undergraduate research scholarship at Cornell University in a microfluidics lab. I studied microfluidics there and continued along my trajectory. When I think back, I can see a very linear path to where I am now. I have learned various biotech and analytical chemistry techniques that carry through to today. 

Q: What are you reading right now, business or pleasure?  

A: Currently, I am reading Neil Stephenson’s new book Seveneves, which is an exciting and though-provoking science fiction epic. I enjoy reading long rambling sci-fi books.

Q: Anything else you want to share?

A: I grew up in a household that was uniquely focused on public health. As a child, my mother had polio and lost her brother to the disease. My childhood provided a unique perspective on the impact of infectious diseases and an overall interest in public health. It inspired me to focus my career on positively impacting public health.