From chemistry labs to COVID samples: How an RCBC alum is working to advance public health
Thursday, Sep 23, 2021

Ryan Pachucki

For Ryan Pachucki, the decision to study science was a personal one. Both his mother and aunt passed away to autoimmune disease, marking his mission to pursue a career in disease and autoimmunity.  

“Going to school, working and visiting my mom in the hospital was a challenge,” Pachucki shared. “But I had the drive to continue in hopes of one day contributing to science.”

Pachucki chose to start at Rowan College at Burlington County due to its close proximity to his family and the flexibility in class scheduling. He also earned a full scholarship through the NJ STARS program. Throughout his time at the college, he formed lasting relationships with both friends and professors. 

“My best experience at RCBC was making new friends,” Pachucki said. “My friend Jay and I met in chemistry lab, and we have been friends ever since. I recently attended his wedding, and it is wonderful to see how one class turned into a lifelong friendship.”

Pachucki graduated with a degree in biology in 2011. He continued his studies, eventually working his way up to a Ph.D from Temple University. He now works in the Molecular Virology Department for the New Jersey Department of Health, where he performs genome sequencing on COVID samples.  

“Currently, we receive many samples requested for SARs-CoV2 sequencing,” Pachucki said. “This information is important in identifying which variants are present. It is a team effort and requires many steps from processing the sample to analyzing the data. I work in the middle of the process at the laboratory bench. I work with the COVID RNA from nasal swabs and convert it to complementary DNA, tagging each specimen with a special molecular label. This way we can run multiple samples at once on a sequencer machine. The entire process usually takes two to three days. I also helped validate a new automated sequencer where we can reduce the sequencing time down to 20 hours.” 

Pachucki credits RCBC’s organic chemistry classes in helping to prepare him for this important work. 

“Organic chemistry was very helpful because it was an introduction on how to work properly in a lab. The instructors shared their experiences working in the industry, so hearing firsthand from them and learning directly from them was an invaluable experience,” Pachucki said. 

The local and global significance of Pachucki’s current position is not lost on him.

“Sequencing is a lot of work,” Pachucki said. “However, I understand the work I am doing is important for our state. I am a professional scientist, and I want to use my skills to help public health. I feel the work I am doing is making a direct impact on how we understand this virus and how it changes over time. Our data can infer the most prevalent variant currently in the population. As a community, we work hard to produce high-quality data that can be helpful for others. There have been many times I have seen others stay late, test on the weekend and think about others before themselves to serve our community.”

When he’s not busy at the laboratory bench, Pachucki enjoys attending church, traveling with his wife, grilling and growing fresh fruits and vegetables for his family.