Graduate Student Named ARCS Scholar

Julia Zakashansky is recognized with an ARCS scholar award, which will support her research involving an at-home coronavirus saliva test. Steve Zylius / UCI

Feb. 1, 2021 - Graduate student Julia Alice Zakashansky has been selected as a 2021-22 UC Irvine ARCS (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists) scholar. The award recognizes academically superior doctoral students who exhibit outstanding promise as scientists, researchers and leaders. Supported by the ARCS Foundation Orange County chapter, it includes a stipend of $5,000 per year, for two years, contingent upon satisfactory academic progress.

Zakashansky, a doctoral candidate in materials science and engineering, is conducting research in the lab of biomedical engineering professor Michelle Khine. She is working with Khine to develop a noninvasive at-home antigen test to detect the spike of SARS-CoV-2 proteins in saliva.

Specifically, Zakashansky is working on a point-of-care platform that uses saliva, an electrochemical reaction and the children’s toy Shrinky Dinks to create low-cost electrodes. The device would be paired with a USB flash drive-sized reader called a potentiostat that plugs directly into a phone or tablet, with results appearing in approximately 30 minutes. She and Khine have posted their current research on the preprint server

“What we’ve shown is that we are capable of detecting really low levels of the viral protein, which is promising for the future of accurate detection of early infections as well as infections in asymptomatic people,” Zakashansky said. “This is increasingly important as data continue to indicate high rates of asymptomatic transmission.”

Zakashansky is honored to be named an ARCS scholar. “This is an opportunity to join both a local chapter and national group that spotlights impactful research and provides a supportive network of people in STEM fields,” she said. “I’m very happy to be a part of the ARCS Foundation.”

The ARCS® Foundation, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to supporting the best and brightest United States graduate and undergraduate scholars by providing financial awards in science, engineering and medical research. The local chapter supports and nurtures students in UCI graduate programs to take on the science challenges of today and tomorrow.

– Lori Brandt