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Beach Connection: Faculty Spotlight

Stephen Mezyk

Stephen Mezyk

1981 B.Sc. Hons. Degree in Physical Chemistry from the University of Melbourne, Australia.
1990 Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Melbourne, Australia.




What inspired you to pursue a career in teaching and conducting research at the university level?
My original love for science came when my high school chemistry teacher allowed me to mix solutions together in class, just to see what happened. One afternoon, I mixed two clear liquids which produced a yellow solid – and from then I was hooked. My career in science was inspired by the fantastic faculty in Chemistry and Mathematics, and my undergraduate research supervisor at the University of Melbourne, who gave me a project that was so interesting I agreed to complete my PhD with him in order to further investigate the problem. This experience ignited my love for research and curiosity for further investigation into why things happen. From these first experiences of teaching at the University of Melbourne, working with students to help them learn and discovering the world of scientific research, I wanted to become a University Professor. It just took a while for me to get there.

Briefly describe your research specialization.
I am interested in how fast chemistry occurs, which is the field of reaction kinetics. This vast field offers many interesting questions to be answered, especially those with relevance to current environmental challenges. My current research focus is in two separate areas; the first is in the removal of chemical contaminants from wastewaters, and the second is nuclear chemistry, where we are investigating the recycling of radioactive metals from nuclear waste.
My water chemistry research is based in measuring the speed and efficiencies of reactions involving radicals. Radicals are highly energetic species deliberately created to react with the contaminants such as antibiotics, steroids, and carcinogens that survive standard water treatments. The goal of this work is to develop methodologies to remove these contaminants from wastewater before it is released to the environment. Wastewater treatment has become critical due to the level of chemicals being released into the environment, and also because of the direct reuse of treated wastewater is being considered by many places such as the San Diego and the Orange County Water District in California. My water remediation projects have been funded at both the local and national level, and have been the subject of over 40 research papers published in some of the top scientific journals.
My interest in nuclear chemistry is based in the worlds’ efforts being made to separate and re-use certain metals from fuel waste, which renders the final waste much less radioactive and safer for long-term storage. I am currently working with colleagues at multiple United States National Laboratories, as well as in the European Union, to facilitate the removal of these metals by testing the efficacy of the chemicals used in this process. This work has been the subject of over 60 research papers published in multiple scientific journals.

Briefly describe what makes CSULB special or unique in terms of your students, your colleagues, as a workplace, etc.
CSULB has a unique work environment, where I have been able to balance my research and teaching loads to achieve success in both. I have mentored many outstanding undergraduate and Masters level research students who have inspired me to work hard and push the boundaries of my scholarship. I really enjoy teaching them about research both in the classroom and in my laboratory. I share with them my passion for both research and teaching, and try to inspire them to work hard to achieve their goals as well. All their successes are extremely rewarding to me, and I am happy that I remain friends with many of my former research students as they pursue their career dreams.

Briefly describe a few of your outside interests, hobbies, family, etc.
I grew up in Melbourne Australia, where my Polish immigrant parents taught my sisters and I the importance of family and close friends, as well as having a strong work ethic. I have three wonderful and successful sisters that still live in Melbourne with their families that I enjoy visiting and vacationing with.
I have been fortunate enough to live and work in Canada, as well as in different parts of the United States and Australia. In all these places I have made life-long friends that I spend time with every chance I get. At CSULB over the past ten years, I have travelled extensively for work with colleagues across both the United States and Europe. My collaborations in Germany and Sweden have afforded me the opportunity to enjoy and experience new countries and cultures, while exchanging ideas and developing new experiments to continue my research efforts.
After moving to CSULB, I married one of the most amazing women I’ve ever met, Nancy. We share a love for chemistry and the joy of travel. We recently enjoyed a trip to Holland visiting family, and are looking forward to an Alaska Cruise and trip to Australia next year for my nephew’s wedding. Other future travel plans include Reykjavik, and the Greek and Galapagos Islands.
As for hobbies - my research has also become my hobby – and that is one of the reasons why I spend so much time each week at “work”. I have many plans for other hobbies for when I retire – but am not sure that will ever happen.

What advice do you have for today’s students?
Treat your university education as a stepping stone to the rest of your life; and if you work really hard, you can be successful in achieving all of your goals. Right now, being a student is your job, and you have just this one chance to prove to the world how amazing you can be before you graduate from here. It is vitally important to stand out from the crowd by and be noticed for your achievements now as it will set you up for the rest of your life.

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