Science & Style

Jinghan Zong ’19 creates cutting-edge designs based on her chemistry and biochemistry education at UC San Diego.

Fashion designers find inspiration in both the ordinary and extraordinary—anything from natural wonders and novel architecture, to world cultures and ancient traditions. Or in the case of one fashion-forward alumna—microscopic biological mechanisms.

Jinghan Zong ’19 became interested in art and design at UC San Diego while she was an undergraduate student in chemistry and biochemistry. Now she’s incorporating the biochemical processes she learned about into her fashion designs as a grad student—that means cutting amino acid patterns into cloth, using the folds of proteins to create the shape of sleeves, and creating heat-sensitive,color-changing materials.“For most fashion designers, visually attractive elements are crucial,” she says, “but I also value mechanisms or theories that can inspire me conceptually.”

Biochemistry is the heart of Zong’s collection “Behind Mechanisms,” part of her graduate work at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. The collection ended up far more experimental than the aspiring designer ever expected—things like protein beta sheets and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging led her to use novel shapes, complex ruffles, and other voluminous elements in her styles, all fitting in with the noteworthy trend of Maximalism in fashion. The collection’s highly saturated colors were even extracted from electrophoresis experiments and chemical compounds she synthesized in labs as an undergraduate.

Zong’s former professors are thrilled to see the influence of science in her work and the innovation it inspires. “Enabling our undergraduates to explore their full potential is what makes being an educator and a scientist so unique and exciting,” says her former chemistry professor, Francesco Paesani. “It has been quite fascinating to follow Jinghan from being a freshman in Chem 6BH to becoming an outstanding biochemist and a talented and creative designer. I am really looking forward to attending her first fashion show.”