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SDSU Student Dreams Big

SDSU graduate student Gene Rayford aspires to cure cancer and win the Nobel Prize.
Gene Rayford will earn his third master's degree this month.
Gene Rayford will earn his third master's degree this month.

Much like the diverse and multifaceted team he is a part of, graduate student and San Diego State University X-Team member Gene Rayford is a man of many talents.

Rayford, a native of Illinois, has a decorated academic career with four published papers under his belt. He is currently working on his third master’s degree in medical physics and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, as well as a master’s in biomedical engineering, all from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.

Because of his interest in cancer and diagnostic imaging research, Rayford’s adviser suggested he attend SDSU — it is one of the few schools in the nation to offer an advanced degree in Medical Physics.

Rayford is an accomplished classically trained pianist, a former college track athlete, as well as a volunteer instructor for several organizations, including a program teaching robotics to local students as part of the local Exploring STEM Careers Initiative. Rayford uses all of these experiences and his passion for music to help with his current scientific endeavors.

“Music has helped me,” Rayford said. “It’s the creative side of me. Sometimes when I play, it helps me think of things, things that I want to invent someday.”

SDSU XPRIZE

While developing a hospital ER medical app on his own, Rayford was recruited by the SDSU X-Team, which hopes his creativity will help them win the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE.

As one of 29 teams left in the competition, the SDSU X-Team is currently developing a mobile healthcare diagnostic device inspired by the Tricorder in Star Trek, capable of measuring vitals and detecting disease. Rayford believes the device will be a great tool for doctors and patients alike, as well as for point of care medical applications in third-world countries.

“Using existing technology, we want to be able to detect a list of diseases and be able to use that information to help people with their quality of life, help improve it,” Rayford said. “I want to help create a device that’s very inexpensive that can be used all over the world and help improve the quality of care for people.”

Future plans

Rayford believes the device and similar technology will be commonplace within the next decade or two.

“I see it as the future of medicine,” said Rayford. “I see what we’re doing as just the beginning. It’s like the space race for medicine.”

Upon completing his master’s degree this spring, Rayford plans to go on to pursue a Ph.D. and research nanotechnology, and eventually start his own biotech firm and work in cancer research. Rayford hopes to not only help cure cancer, but to also be the first black person to win the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

Rayford said his father, a doctor, and his mother, a teacher, are his inspiration for dreaming big.

“I’m trying to carry on my family’s legacy, but I want to go beyond what they’ve done,” he said. “They encouraged me to follow my dreams.”

Elouie Gopez is a graduate student in the School of Journalism & Media Studies. He represents the SDSU X-Team as part of the Arrow Media Group at SDSU, the first student-run media agency in San Diego. 

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