Meet the Team

Zachery R. Belak, Ph.D

CEO & Co-Founder

Zach Belak

Zach has a wealth of applied scientific expertise and experience gained over 15+ years in academic, industrial, and consulting environments which he draws on his role as co-founder of Proxima Research and Development. His areas of specialization include protein synthesis and characterization, development and application of bioassays, the biological applications of nanoparticles, and application of organic chemistry to biological problems. He excels at bringing diverse biochemical, molecular, and cell-based methods to bear on clients’ complex scientific problems in industrial, agricultural, bioproduct, and therapeutic contexts.

Having worked with diverse model systems and organisms (mammals, frogs, yeast, bacteria, fruit flies, purple sea urchin) and plant-based protein expression platforms, unusual study organisms (scorpions and dengue fever virus), and an impressive array of laboratory techniques, Zach can expertly tailor solutions to meet clients’ needs. He also has experience with labelling and regulatory compliance in multiple contexts (e.g., Canadian Environmental Protection Act, Food and Drugs Act), including for nanoparticles and controlled substances. Zach regularly publishes in high-impact peer-reviewed journals, has given numerous presentations at academic and industry conferences, and has been a part of over $570,000 in competitive funding. [Visit Zach’s LinkedIn profile]

Q: What does your job at Proxima entail? A: More than anything else, it entails listening to our staff and ensuring they have everything they need for scientific excellence. Sometimes that means writing contracts or providing guidance on complex scientific problems and sometimes that means fixing the leaky sink.

Q: What do you love most about science? A: It’s a tangible way to find out how the world works and pursuing it doesn’t just give us charts and graphs, it also opens the door to wonders and beauty inside everyday things all around us. Having learned about the inner working of things, every tree or cloud or rock gains its own history and is full of hidden activity.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you? A: Seeing Lady Gaga in concert is on my bucket list.

Iain Wallace, M.Sc., M.Res.

CSO & Co-Founder

Iain brings to Proxima Research and Development a decade of frontline scientific experience in academic, biomedical, and industrial settings. As a protein biochemist, he has previously focused on recombinant protein expression, purification and characterization using orthodox and unorthodox expression systems. His research on the mechanisms by which bacteria colonize human tissues included the exploration of novel tools for treating drug resistant infections and cancer. Prior to co-founding Proxima Research and Development, Iain worked at a pharmaceutical startup, where he designed, executed, and provided guidance on process design for protein purification.

His diverse background has made him proficient in a wide variety of technical instrumentation and his toolbox is supported by proteomics experience. He is particularly adept at troubleshooting and streamlining complex and technical processes, allowing Proxima Research and Development to provide innovative and efficient solutions to client research problems in time-restricted contexts. Iain has a long history of fostering collaborative relationships, beginning as an Executive Officer for Ustinov College at Durham University, and continuing as a Product Integration Technician at Abcam PLC and a Client Success Representative at Clearpath Robotics. Iain’s lab-based expertise, communication skills, and talent for managing multiple complex projects provides Proxima Research and Development with the ability to deliver outstanding client-oriented service and results. [Visit Iain’s LinkedIn profile]

Q: What do you love most about science? A: I love learning, and scientific research is really a process of continual education. Going from not knowing to knowing, that moment of realization, of discovery, of no longer being ignorant is something I enjoy tremendously.

Q: What is your favourite piece of trivia or knowledge? A: Carcinization – evolution’s seeming obsession with trying to produce crabs!

Q: If you weren’t busy at Proxima, what would you do instead? A: Be a stay-at-home Dad.

John Muirhead, Co-Founder

Office Manager & Purchaser

John brings two decades in customer service and asset management across several industries, including hospitality, building supply, and transport. A curious man with a love of history and a passion for storytelling, John is the man behind the scenes wrangling the scientists, making sure Proxima runs according to schedule and that all safety protocols are in place. He also handles Proxima’s shipping, receiving, and maintenance, repairing any device with life left in it.

John is also an essential part of the science team, maintaining inventory, preparing media, and supporting other activities at the bench. Never one to shy away from the dreaded “other duties as assigned”, he has recently taken on the role of Proxima’s Brood Mother, caring for the Parasteatoda tepidariorum (common house spider), Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly), and other organisms used in Proxima’s research.  

Q: What drew you down this career path? A: …Nepotism? I’ve known Zach since high school.

Q: What do you love about science? A: How much more you can learn when something doesn’t work, as opposed to when it does.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you? A: I am in the process of self-publishing a trilogy of fantasy novels. Still need to edit and publish the third book.

Gabrielle Mercier, B.Sc., M.Sc.

Account Executive

Gabrielle completed her undergraduate degree in cell biology and her master’s degree in biochemistry at the University of Saskatchewan. She started at Proxima as a staff scientist, but has since shifted her focus onto sales and business development, becoming an account executive. Gabrielle uses her technical background to promote Proxima’s services while supporting clients across all of Proxima’s service divisions.  [Visit Gabby’s LinkedIn profile]

Q: What drew you down this career path? A: It allows me to appreciate the extraordinary complexity of our world and of our existence. Also, the enjoyment I feel when solving complex problems and learning new information, both significant characteristics of research.

Q: What is one of the more interesting pieces of science trivia you’ve come across? A: Certain animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria can survive in extremely cold temperatures due to the presence of antifreeze proteins. These specialized proteins adsorb onto ice crystals and prevent the organism from freezing.

Q: Any out-there science myths you’ve heard recently? A: A wacky science myth that I recently discovered is that the parasitic protozoan Toxoplasma gondii, found in cats, can convince humans of their adorable nature. I found that this theory may explain my recent adoption of two kittens.

Valeria Martinez, B.Sc, M.Sc.

Staff Scientist

Valeria completed her Bachelor of Science in biotechnology from Universidad de las Fuerzas Armadas – ESPE in Ecuador and is currently completing her master’s degree in food sciences and bioproducts at the University of Saskatchewan. She has previously worked on the progerin protein, a cause of the premature ageing syndrome progeria. Her thesis work focuses on enhancing clearance of cytotoxic proteins by activating the anaphase promoting complex.

In previous roles, Valeria has worked as a microbiology technician, analyzing food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, soil, water, and environmental samples. Emigrated from Ecuador, Valeria contributes to Proxima research and development activities and is the Proxima representative for our customers and collaborators in Mexico. [Visit Valeria’s LinkedIn profile]

Q: What drew you down this career path? A: I’ve been fascinated by nature since I was a kid; biology and sciences were my favorite subjects. So, I studied biotechnology engineering in my bachelor degree, which opened my mind to question what is happening around me, to try to understand nature and create new technologies.

Q: What do you love most about science? A: Science helps us to have an open mind and a curios mind, awakening the inner child that wanted to explore the world. What I love abut science is the potential to solve problems and create new products. For example, producing milk by fermentation and not using animals at all. This not only has an impact on food security, but also on animal welfare.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you? A: Even though I love climbing, I am really scared of highs. But for me life is about overcoming our fears and pushing ourselves to our limits. And at the end, when you are at the top of a mountain, feel proud and happy of have tried in spite of fear.

Meet Patel, B.Sc 

Staff Scientist

Meet completed his undergraduate dree in Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Immunology with Honours at the University of Saskatchewan, where he is currently enrolled in the Doctor of Medicine undergraduate program. He is trilingual, fluent in Gujarati, Hindi, and English.

As a staff scientist, Meet is an integral part of Proxima’s science machine, including micro and molecular biology, biochemistry, plasmid vector construction, and bioinformatics.

Q: What do you love most about science? A: I love the curiosity and the wonder that comes with science. There is no better tool than science to answer the questions of biology, our place in the universe, and how we ended up here.

Q: What is the wackiest science myth or conspiracy theory you’ve come across, and what made you choose this one? A: The wackiest science myth or conspiracy theory would that I’ve come across is the Flat Earth conspiracy theories. I chose this one because strong proponents of Flat Earth supporters will often design and perform experiments in hopes of proving their conjecture and inadvertently end up substantiating evidence for a globe. Yet, it doesn’t stifle their belief in a flat earth. Fascinating!

Q: What is your favourite word that has no direct English translation? A: Bazinga! It’s an interjection used to rub a good joke in someone’s face.

Taylor Baker

Staff Scientist

Taylor is currently completing her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Immunology at the University of Saskatchewan. She is fascinated by molecular biology and drawn to the intricate detail and logic that underpins biological world functions.

As a staff scientist, Taylor supports client projects through a variety of bench work.

Q: What is the wackiest science myth or conspiracy you’ve come across? A: The Dancing Plague of 1518 may not have been caused by demons but instead from eating rye flour contaminated with ergot fungus that could cause hallucinations and seizures. Even the most bizarre events could have a scientific explanation.

Q: What is your favourite word that has no direct English translation? A: The Finnish expression ‘Sisu’. Sisu refers to resilience and perseverance through difficult situations. I think of it as “regardless of how difficult it may be to find a solution; I’ll figure it out anyway.”

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you. A: I really enjoy astronomy. I often put on YouTube videos about the mysteries of space while I do menial tasks.

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Call or text: 306.370.0607
Unit 9, 2404 Thayer Ave Unit 9
Saskatoon, SK S7L 6B4

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