Zachary S. Dean

Planetary Protection Engineer
Office: 818-354-2320


Zach is an interdisciplinary, molecular biology-oriented biomedical engineering Ph.D. who spent five years developing nucleic acid probes to detect RNAs (miRNA/mRNA) inside living cells in real time. He also developed portable electromechanical infusion pumps for Medipacs, Inc., refined 3D cell culture assays, investigated smooth muscle cell migration mechanisms, fabricated portable lab-on-a-chip field testing devices, and constructed a high-speed photography system. He also has years of community service with honors organizations Tau Beta Pi and Alpha Epsilon Delta in addition to experience as a mentor for Tucson’s Bit Buckets FIRST Robotics Competition team. The results of his research appear in more than eleven peer-reviewed publications, two books, and more than a dozen scientific presentations. After a year of cell transporter research with the Dr. Stephen H. Wright Lab at the Univeristy of Arizona, Zach joined NASA JPL’s Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group.

Research Interests

  • Planetary protection
  • Astrobiology
  • Quantitative single-cell gene expression analysis
  • Real-time nucleic acid detection
  • Bioinformatics
  • Programming and machine learning
  • Advanced 2D/3D fluorescence microscopy (2P, confocal, etc.)
  • Microbiology and molecular biology techniques (IHC, PCR, and so on)

Professional Experience

2016 – present: Planetary Protection Engineer, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California Institute of Technology.

2015 – 2016: Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Arizona

2011 – 2013: G-TEAMS NSF Fellow, University of Arizona

2010 – 2011: R&D Engineer, Medipacs, Inc.

2009 – 2010: Honors College Undergraduate Researcher, University of Arizona

2008 – 2009: NASA Space Grant Intern, University of Arizona


2015, Ph. D, Biomedical Engineering, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona

2011, M.S., Biomedical Engineering, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona

2010, B.S., Biosystems Engineering, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona.

Selected Awards

2014: IEEE Nanomed 2014 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Invited lecture and travel grant award

2014: SLAS 2014 in San Diego, California. Tony B. Travel Award.

2011 - 2013:  G-TEAMS National Science Foundation Fellow.

2010:  “PADT Best Use of Rapid Prototyping Award”

2009 - 2010: Active member of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honors Society.

2009: Water Sustainability Program Fellowship.

2009: Arizona Honors College Undergraduate Research Grant.

July 2008 - Group Achievement Award to the MER 3rd and 4th Extended Mission Team, “For determination, enthusiasm, talent, ingenuity, technical skill, and scientific curiosity in continuing the exploration of the surface of Mars”

2006 - 2010: “Wildcat Excellence Award” Recipient.

2002: Eagle Scout Award.

Selected Publications

Dean, Zachary S., et al. "Probing 3D Collective Cancer Invasion Using Double-Stranded Locked Nucleic Acid Biosensors." Analytical Chemistry88.17 (2016): 8902-8907.

Yang, Yongliang, et al. "Probing Leader Cells in Endothelial Collective Migration by Plasma Lithography Geometric Confinement." Scientific reports6 (2016).

Dean, Zachary S., Reza Riahi, and Pak Kin Wong. "Spatiotemporal dynamics of microRNA during epithelial collective cell migration." Biomaterials 37 (2015): 156-163.

Lu, Yi, et al. "A UAV-Mounted Whole Cell Biosensor System for Environmental Monitoring Applications." IEEE Transactions on NanoBioscience 14.8 (2015): 811-817.

Riahi, Reza, et al. "Single cell gene expression analysis in injury-induced collective cell migration." Integrative Biology 6.2 (2014): 192-202.

Riahi, Reza, et al. "Detection of mRNA in living cells by double-stranded locked nucleic acid probes." Analyst 138.17 (2013): 4777-4785.

Kwon, Hyuck-Jin, et al. "Lab-on-a-chip for field Escherichia coli assays: long-term stability of reagents and automatic sampling system." Journal of the Association for Laboratory Automation 15.3 (2010): 216-223.

CL#: 17-1953, 18-1585

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