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A legacy to live by, the S.H. Zbarsky Scholarship

March 23, 2018

UBC alumnus Ralph Zbarsky (BASc. 1971) still remembers the day in 1967 when the postman began arriving at his home with bags and bags of lab samples for analysis.

Ralph’s father was Dr. Sidney H. Zbarsky, co-founder of Metro Labs (today known as LifeLabs), and one of the original two faculty members when the UBC Faculty of Medicine was established in 1950.

“He had an intellectual bent,” says Ralph. “But he was also entrepreneurial. He used to encourage anybody and everybody to do something practical. Metro Labs began in our basement. It was started to fill a gap — to do all the tests that weren’t being done at the hospitals, or anywhere else.”

Unlike his father, who was an award-winning scientist and researcher who shared his laboratories with three Nobel laureates, Ralph had little interest in medicine. Rather, a boyish compulsion for dismantling and reassembling mechanical and electrical devices eventually gave way to a fruitful career in the field of electrical engineering. Ralph and his siblings, Jonathan and Deborah, all attended UBC. Jonathan (BASc 1973 ) and Deborah (BA 1976) continue contributing to the university, and all choose to give to the fund that supports the S.H. Zbarsky Scholarship, an award that honours their father’s outstanding contributions and lifelong achievements.

As an award-winning scientist and researcher in the field of nucleic acids, Dr. Zbarsky was recognized as a prolific author and a dedicated teacher. Upon his retirement in 1985, he was honoured at a symposium where friends, family, and colleagues came together and created a fund that lead to the establishment of the perpetual endowment to support the S.H. Zbarsky Scholarship.

Ralph and Deborah also had the pleasure of meeting the 2016 recipient — Chloe Gerek.

Chloe, who is pursuing a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, was vacationing with her best friend in Spain when she received the news. “I turned on my data, because I knew the announcement was coming,” she explains. “I actually thought it was going to go to somebody else, and we both got really excited.”

As a student, Chloe’s journey at UBC has been one of self-discovery. Although she originally planned to become an elementary teacher, she discovered a love and aptitude for organic chemistry.

After completing a major in molecular biology and biochemistry, with a minor in biological sciences, Chloe is now focused on the research of tissue culture and cell culture, as well as protein purification. She plans to pursue a postdoctoral degree and adds that she is hopeful that winning the scholarship will bring exciting new opportunities to advance her education and career.

The S.H. Zbarsky Scholarship is awarded to an outstanding PhD student in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology for achievements in coursework, research, and in the student seminar series.

“I think dad was enamoured with the idea of the award going to someone who was distinguished by their peers,” says Ralph. “And I think he also meant that the scholarship should be used to do interesting things, not just reinvested in education. To me, that’s a great gift.”

“We all hope that one of these students will find a cure for some form of cancer or Parkinson’s” adds Deborah. “But it’s also important for them to enjoy their time at UBC.”

Like their parents, Ralph and Deborah have taken considerable pride in meeting the scholarship recipients and note that all share some remarkable traits.

“Every award winner I’ve ever met has had similar personalities,” says Ralph. “They are well-rounded, interesting people who are into the world. And they have huge bright futures ahead of them.”