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Zach Davis ’18 Realizes Research Dreams with Help from Alumni-Funded Fellowship

Zachary Davis is a biology student.

For a science student, the opportunity to work in the laboratory of a world-renowned researcher, coupled with a funded stint at a famous research center in a beautiful locale, is the stuff of dreams. That’s exactly how Biology major Zach Davis ’18 CLAS spent the summer before his senior year—thanks to the help of Villanova University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty mentors and generous alumni.

Since Zach’s sophomore year, he has been working with Biology professor Aaron Bauer, PhD, the Gerald M. Lemole, MD, Endowed Chair in Integrative Biology and one of the world’s leading herpetologists. Dr. Bauer was recently part of an international team of scientists that completed the “atlas of life”—the first global review and map of every terrestrial vertebrate on Earth. 

Zach’s work in Dr. Bauer’s lab amped up last summer when he received a fellowship enabling him to spend several weeks on site at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories—a facility world-renowned for its research in marine biology, oceanography and fisheries.

Friday Harbor is in the San Juan Islands, a breathtaking archipelago located between Washington State and British Columbia. There, Zach used high resolution x-ray computed tomography to digitally dissect his gecko specimens, studying factors influencing the morphology of the humerus bone.

“My project involved studying the skeletons of geckos to determine the effect that their habitat, size and phylogeny have had on the evolution of their humeri over time,” Zach says. “Dr. Bauer sent me out there with about 140 specimens, which I couldn’t damage or lose without major consequences.”

Zach was able to take advantage of this hands-on research opportunity through the Spagnuola Fellowship, funded by Christopher Spagnuola ’92 CLAS and Vanessa Spagnuola ’92 CLAS. The fellowship covered his housing and meals for two months—he processed his research back at Villanova—as well as travel and a stipend for research supplies. Zach’s findings are the topic of his senior thesis.

Also during his college years, Zach has worked as a volunteer with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and as a volunteer with both Hospice of the Chesapeake and Season’s Hospice and Palliative Care. He would like to ultimately become a doctor.

“Dr. Bauer and [Biology chairperson] Dr. John Olson have encouraged me the entire way,” he says.