Senior snapshot: Weinberg senior to test polymers at MIT

Sammy Caiola

Weinberg senior Aleksandr Zhukhovitskiy is in the process of developing a polymer that could absorb the carbon dioxide emitted by power plants before they reach the ozone layer.

Zhukhovitskiy, a math and chemistry double major, received a fellowship offer from the National Science Foundation and the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship. Unable to take both, Zhukhovitskiy chose the National Science Foundation to sponsor him for the next three years as he conducts research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The material Zhukhovitskiy is working on is an organic polymer that is porous and able to absorb carbon dioxide more efficiently than the current technology.

“It’s sort of like architecture on a molecular scale,” Zhukhovitskiy said. “First, you want to make building blocks, and you can design a small molecule that could have particular functionality and particular chemical properties. And then once you have these building blocks, you can then make polymers out of them.”

The fellowship grant will pay full tuition for three years of MIT, where Zhukhovitskiy will study chemistry and do lab work with a group of graduates. He was able to apply the grant to any university to which he was accepted.

Zhukhovitskiy began working with organic materials while doing research with NU prof. Tobin Marks during his freshman year. He then went on to study with Prof. SonBinh Nguyen. He said a benefit of NU’s integrated science program was being able to learn in a wide variety of fields rather than mastering just one subject.

“It’s not an understatement to say that our chemistry department is top-notch,” Zhukhovitskiy said. “The fact that there were so many people working on different things gave me the ability to choose what I wanted to do and learn as an undergraduate and actually be able to find that here.”

In his free time, Zhukhovitskiy tutors math, chemistry and physics. He has also served on the executive board of Slivka Residential College, where he currently lives.

He said he is thankful to graduate students Hakan Usta and Emily Pentzer, who served as mentors during his undergraduate career.

“I have to say that I owe a lot to them because they’ve actually been there in the lab training with me, making sure I’m learning and not just hitting my head against the wall,” Zhukhovitskiy said.

Zhukhovitskiy said that outside the University, his most important mentor has been his father, who is also a chemist.

“I wanted to follow in his footsteps,” Zhukhovitskiy said. “And now I’m doing it because I actually love it. It’s really fascinating. But he has been helping me in terms of giving me advice and giving me inspiration.”

Zhukovitskiy said his service on the executive board of Slivka Residential College provides a much-needed break from his coursework.

“I also owe the fact that I’ve retained any semblance of sanity to my friends and girlfriend who all live in Slivka,” Zhukovitskiy said. “It’s been a really big part of my life, getting to come back to Slivka and be immersed in life there. It’s nice to think about something other than chemistry.”

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