Bridging the Elements
As a scientist, Vivek Utgikar conducts research in hydrogen, the most common chemical element in the universe. But in the universe of the university classroom and laboratory, Utgikar’s skills and personality are anything but common.
Utgikar is an assistant professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Idaho College of Engineering where his dual research interests of energy and the environment are a good match for the university’s Idaho Falls location.
"Energy and the environment have been my interests for a long time, from the time I went to engineering school," said Utgikar. "In fact, one of my undergraduate projects in the early 80’s was on a nuclear energy-related topic."
Originally from Bombay, India, Utgikar recognized early in life his interest in chemistry and math. Chemical engineering, which combines the science of chemistry with the discipline of engineering to solve problems and find more efficient ways of doing things, was a logical choice for a career.
He earned both a bachelor's and master's degree from the University of Bombay and then worked as a development officer for an organic chemical company in India. He moved to the U.S. in 1988 and started in a Ph.D. program in Cincinnati where he was involved in chemical engineering research.
The doctorate degree led to a position as an assistant professor at the University of Dayton and then a job as a research associate at the National Research Council.
"The blend of chemistry, physics and math results in a versatility that opens up unlimited career choices for a chemical engineer," said Utgikar. "Chemical engineers find solutions for a better world."
Utgikar's research projects now include hydrogen technologies such as the production of hydrogen, and the environmental life cycle assessment of hydrogen production and treatment of hazardous wastes.
With his expertise in environmental clean-up and experience in teaching, the opportunity for a faculty position at Idaho Falls and the research focus of the then-INEEL was a perfect fit.
The mission of the national laboratory has since changed, but the renewed focus on energy continues to play into his research interest. But Utgikar's life is more than work, and the proximity to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks were a big draw. In addition, Idaho Falls' big city features in a small town setting, the soccer complex and academically focused students seal the deal for him to stay.
"The drive, tenacity and perseverance of my students who juggle their not-insignificant professional and personal responsibilities along with their studies are remarkable and admirable," he said.
Bill Lattin, a doctoral candidate in Environmental Science who will receive his degree this May, has high praise for Utgikar, who serves as his major adviser.
"He has made the life-long dream of a doctoral degree possible," said Lattin. "He challenges me to perform in areas I might not have explored on my own. His professionalism provides an example to follow. Vivek’s personality and sense of humor always highlight the day."
As for Utgikar, his reply is: "To me, there is no better joy than to encourage the growth in the minds of students, helping them to become masters and doctors."
Outside the classroom, Utgikar is an enthusiastic competitor. He claims that field hockey is his favorite pastime, but soccer a close second. He also learned to ski at southeast Idaho’s abundant ski areas.
"It is a difficult skill to master but I am probably at about an intermediate level."
Utgikar also is an avid reader who picks up, "practically anything that I can lay my hands on, particularly ancient history."
He finds great satisfaction in sharing his hobbies and sports with his two sons. Just as his mother and grandparents taught him to play bridge, now he is sharing his pursuits with his children.
Article & photo courtesy Idaho Falls Magazine, for more information visit http://www.idahofallsmagazine.com