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Nanoantenna project cements doctoral student’s place in research

Portrait of Zach Thacker

Zach Thacker is a chemical engineering doctoral candidate whose research focuses on Professor Patrick Pinhero’s nanoantenna project.

Zach Thacker is a doctoral student conducting research with chemical engineering Professor Patrick Pinhero.

Thacker, a native of Belton, Mo., completed his undergrad work at Mizzou in 2010, after which, he immediately joined the doctoral program. His decision to attend graduate school occurred well into his undergraduate career.

“I’d been flip flopping,” he said. “First, I was definitely going to do a Ph.D., then I was looking at jobs in industry, then back to the Ph.D.”

What cemented his decision to continue school was the research he conducted with Pinhero. He first worked on some of Pinhero’s nuclear engineering projects, then got involved with his nanoantenna project. Thacker called the work for that project the moment “when he knew he loved grad school.”

Thacker’s decision to attend Mizzou was influenced by his family and the cost of tuition. Many of his friends were attending either MU or the University of Kansas.

“I was on the Missouri side of Kansas City, so MU was a lot cheaper,” he said. He also had engineers in the family. Stepmother Denise was a 1993 electrical engineering from MU, and his grandfather was an engineer whom Thacker said “steered him toward anything math.”

As a freshman, Thacker said he was torn between chemical engineering and electrical engineering. Fatefully, he was assigned chemical engineering Associate Professor Paul Chan as his academic adviser. Thacker said he chose chemical engineering because of the challenge it presented, which kept the subject from becoming boring.

“Dr. Chan calls me a glutton for punishment,” Thacker joked.

Thacker has worked on his current research for almost four years. The nanoantenna project aims to create an alternative method to harvest energy. Ideally, the new method would replace photovolatiacs, a method of turning captured solar energy into direct current electricity.

His work as a graduate student also has allowed him the chance to travel. In 2013, he attended the American Chemical Society spring conference in New Orleans where he presented a terahertz time-domain spectrometer he built.

Thacker plans to graduate in December 2015 but hopes to continue as a post-doctoral researcher at Mizzou.

“I really want to stick with my research and my team,” he said. “I want to do research for a while. Then, once I get older, I might teach.”