Home-> Students Profiles-> Zachary Helft
Zachary Helft
Minor Hall
Richard Kramer Lab
I’M FROM:  Hoosick Falls, New York, USA
BEFORE VS:  I studied Cellular Neuroscience at Colgate University
WHY I’M HERE: Vision is the primary sense through which the human mind recreates reality. As an undergrad, I researched under Bruce C. Hansen, Ph.D., who really helped me to appreciate the plastic, reconstructive nature of vision.  Vision science is a very integrative, multidisciplinary program which brings computer scientists, physicists, engineers, cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists, and biologists all into one lab to solve very complex questions.   These facets of vision research spurred my interest in this field and led me to UC Berkeley.
MY RESEARCH: My research focuses on retinal remodeling that occurs after photoreceptor loss. In the Kramer lab, we use light-sensitive photoswitches to impart light responsiveness onto the remaining neurons in the retina in an effort to restore visual perception. While photoswitches successfully impart light sensitivity onto degenerated retinas, they do not affect retinas with intact rods and cones. Using fluorescence microscopy, I probe the permeability of retinal ganglion cells that allows our photoswitches to cross the membrane and integrate with ion channels. I am currently looking at the signal that underlies this P2X-induced permeability and how this might be leveraged to create better vision restoration tools.
MY DREAM: Ultimately, I hope to one day be part of a community of learned people who discover and apply knowledge to have a measurable positive impact on the lives of as many people as possible.  Whether this is through an academic, private, commercial, or non-profit organization is of less concern to me at the moment.  Applying knowledge to have an impact on the world around you is, in my view, the ultimate reward of an education.
MY HOBBIES: The West coast in a new world to me.  I love to explore it on foot, by bike, motorcycle, car, or kayak.  I also like to rock climb and try anything new that I haven’t before.  The breadth of food options here in Berkeley also keeps me wondering where I will try next.  I also enjoy science outreach programs and am a member of Bay Area Scientists in Schools (BASIS).  I am also a member of the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship and Berkeley Postdoc Entrepreneur Program (BPEP).I love traveling.  I’ve been to over 15 countries on 4 continents.  Before all is said and done, I would like to set foot on every continent.  I’m also an avid outdoorsman and have hiked around 200 miles on the Appalachian Trail.  Completing this trail is another life-long goal of mine.