USF Magazine Summer 2011

Volume 53 | Number 2


Bonding with Dr. Z

| USF News

Dr. Z and his graduate research students

Dr. Z's 11 graduate research students hail from four continents. Pictured in his lab are students from (L-R) Egypt, Germany, Singapore, China, Tampa and India. Two of the students work on pharmaceutical applications of solid-state chemistry, while others work on porous metal-organic materials for environmental applications.
Photo by Aimee Blodgett | USF News

It seems only fitting that in 2011, the International Year of Chemisry, USF Professor of Chemistry Mike Zaworotko would take one of science's highest honors — recognition among the world's top 20 chemists over the past decade as ranked by impact of published research. Between 2000 and 2010, Zaworotko, better known as "Dr. Z," achieved a total of 7,403 citations for 83 publications.

Zaworotko joined USF in 1999. For eight years he served as chair of the Department of Chemistry. An internationally renowned expert in crystal engineering and supramolecular chemistry, Zaworotko's research focuses on discovering and developing new "smart" metal-organic material (MOM) platforms — combinations of organic and inorganic molecular building blocks — to achieve energy sustainability and improved human health.

The Welsh-born Zaworotko says it was "complete random coincidence" that brought him to the U.S. in 1977. An undergraduate student at the time working on his thesis, Zaworotko followed his professor back to the states from London. "I left London for Alabama in 1977. It was pure culture shock," he says.

And the start of his academic career.

USF: What brought you to USF?

I responded to an advertisement for an external chair. An ad like that doesn't happen too often. I was aware of the huge growth at USF and the huge upside potential. The glove fit perfectly.

USF: How did you first become interested in chemistry?

Geography and math were my two best subjects; chemistry was more of a struggle, but I felt intuitively attracted to chemistry and I loved the idea of making new things.

USF: Describe your teaching style.

Traditional, at the undergraduate level. At the graduate level, I expect students to participate and learn without a textbook. I particularly like to find a paper published last week and ask students to lead the discussion.

USF: What is the most important thing you teach your students?

The message I relentlessly pursue is: "Don't prejudge the outcome of your experiment." If we knew the outcome before conducting the experiment, then it would not be research.

USF: You hold a patent, correct?

Actually, several over the years and several pending that could have impact. I've had quite a lot of experience in dealing with the patent office and patent attorneys.

USF: What has been your greatest discovery?

It's not a single discovery, but rather that eureka moment when you realize you can design new materials rather than accept them as they are.

USF: Is there anything that would surprise people about academic science?

Being an academic scientist, you join something like a priesthood. You go through rituals and then you become part of a club. Science is global and cuts across all cultures.

USF: If only I could discover...

The perfect metal-organic material (MOM) for hydrogen storage or carbon capture - before a researcher in China, our main competitor, does. That would be the ultimate challenge in my field, and would forever change the world.

USF: Is there one thing in particular you hope to come from your research?

For my students to propagate The Gospel of Crystal Engineering According to Z.

Quick Takes

You in One Word: Persistent

Classroom or Laboratory: Both

Articles Published: 299 and counting

Hobby: Chemistry

Hero: Nelson Mandela