University teaches students to study a topic and identify gaps in the body of existing research and determine areas in…More
Alumni Q&A: Ryan Zakszeski ’13
Ryan Zakszeski followed the nanomaterials track and earned his bachelor of science in Materials Science and Engineering in 2013.
What made you choose Johns Hopkins?
When I visited Johns Hopkins it was the first time I heard of this awesome thing called “Materials Science & Engineering.” I was actually between MechE and ChemE, but after I learned more about the MatSci program I was hooked. A good athletic program was also very important to me as I wanted to continue my baseball career, and Hopkins is one of the top D3 schools in the country for just about any sport. Plus, the campus is beautiful and Baltimore is such a great city for college students.
Were you involved in any research in the department?
My involvement in research mostly consisted of my senior project where I explored different ways to produce a dry adhesive, commonly called “gecko tape.” The foot of a gecko has a crazy nanostructure that allows it to climb walls, which really transformed my perception of adhesives. The company I work for, Arkema, actually just acquired Bostik, an adhesives company, and their logo/mascot is a gecko!
Do you have any memories that stand out from the classroom or lab?
Too many good memories. I believe there were only ten in our graduating class so we were a pretty tight-knit crew, and of course we were all very close with Dr. Wilson (aka Orla, aka the most awesome person ever). We had a bunch of inside jokes that lasted the few years we had together, and we would often kid around about making Iron Man suits for our research projects or Captain America’s shield.
More generally: how did you get interested in materials science and engineering?
I always knew that I was interested in engineering, and I was always asking why and how things worked when I was younger. The cool thing about materials science and engineering is that materials play a pivotal role in everything we come into contact with every day. To understand why certain materials are chosen for different scenarios and to understand what new material developments can bring for the future is very exciting.
What is your current role at Arkema?
I am the Global Communications Coordinator for the Technical Polymers business unit with Arkema. I started in a technical service engineer role providing support for our powder coating product line called Rilsan® Fine Powders (commonly used to coat dishwasher baskets and many other parts in corrosive or abrasive environments). As my interest at the customer level grew, I started developing an interest in marketing, and I was lucky to have very supportive managers along the way. Now, every day I get to tailor the messages we bring to each market and show how special our products are in solving some of the world’s most challenging issues. I have a sick addiction to PowerPoint, but until you understand how powerful it can be you’ll never understand! I also get to do some international traveling and make a lot of videos, which makes things even more exciting!
What’s been the most interesting aspect of your career so far?
It sounds cliché, but I learn SO MUCH every day. Our products can be found in so many different markets and applications and it is simply amazing how all the puzzle pieces come together to provide a solution to our customers. You have no idea how much research and development goes into make a running shoe! Really, it’s a lot of work! I’ve also learned A LOT about lithium ion batteries, photovoltaic panels, fuel line tubing, offshore umbilicals, water filtration membranes, and the list goes on and on. Simply put, I am not limited to certain market segments, and I get to learn about such a wide variety of materials and applications.
Do you have any advice for aspiring engineers and materials scientists?
Never stop asking questions and always continue to educate yourself. Another cliché for you: knowledge is power. You aren’t always given the training you need to progress at the rate you wish to, so go out and train yourself and be resourceful! Find ways to develop new skills and improve yourself. Don’t be afraid to try new things and step outside of your comfort zone. Most importantly, enjoy the rest of the time you have at JHU. It was the quickest four years of my life, so make sure you have fun!