Chemistry Graduate Student Levi Garza Works to Make Chemistry Accessible to Those with Visual and Mobility Impairments

April 2, 2024
Levi Garza

Levi Garza is a second-year graduate student in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Baylor University. He invests his time and effort into making chemistry accessible to the visually impaired and those with mobility issues to increase inclusivity in science. Levi wants all people to have the opportunity to study chemistry if they desire. He is putting in efforts to ensure that all individuals have access to a diverse range of commonly used and highly practical options.

Garza graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and a minor in psychology from Whitworth University, a private Christian university in Spokane, Washington. At Whitworth, he contributed to a study that aimed to make it easier for teachers to educate their students about scientific instruments and analysis. The study used 3D printing to create models and tools that help students understand how these instruments work. He was the lead author of the study. 

So, when looking at potential graduate schools and laboratories to join, Dr. Bryan Shaw’s research was precisely the right fit. “I found his work on 3D printing to make chemistry accessible to visually impaired persons inspiring. Dr. Shaw pioneered this field of inclusivity, which I knew I wanted to be a part of and would fit perfectly with the work I had done previously. It’s been a privilege to work under him.” 

The Shaw research lab dedicates time and effort to making chemistry accessible for all persons. According to Garza, visually impaired persons and those with mobility issues have often been excluded from chemistry. Research tools have yet to be created for many standard laboratory apparatuses and techniques so that they may be accessible to all. In his research, Garza uses computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D printing to create devices or models to help visually impaired/mobility-issued persons perform tasks in the lab. He said, “The goal is to allow them to perform laboratory chemistry unassisted.” His most proud accomplishment is a 3D-printed device he created that has made one of the most common and fundamental bioanalytical techniques, Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate-Polyacrylamide Electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE), accessible to those who are visually impaired. 

He said, “To our knowledge, this is the first time in history that this technique has become accessible to the visually impaired and those with mobility issues.” Through this device, regardless of the severity of their visual impairment and previous experience in a laboratory, SDS-PAGE is now accessible, which opens the door to many more persons interested in this field. According to Garza, it has been shown to work successfully across various age groups, and the device itself is currently in the patent process. “This is a huge step into making biochemistry accessible for all and will pave the way for work to come.” Garza is not stopping there and has already begun working on the next project to create tools for other chemistry processes.

Dr. Bryan Shaw, a faculty affiliate of the BCDD and one of Garza’s advisors, said, “He has done a good job leading the team in designing this device. While he has done the heavy lifting and a lot of thinking and fine-tuning, he has also incorporated input from his colleagues with blindness. Making science accessible is not hard if you put your mind to it and take it seriously, which is what Garza has done.”

Garza is very passionate about chemistry and wants to share it with people with and without disabilities. “Chemistry is the very language in which God speaks in the universe. It involves the world around us, and I have found enormous joy studying it. The opportunity to study the world God created for us should be available for everyone to enjoy and experience.” 

Garza’s research is an excellent example of impactful scholarship at Baylor University that expands meaningful access and contributions for every community member. His work aligns well with the mission and vision of the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities, which focuses on the inclusion and flourishing of people with disabilities in all aspects of life