Winter 2011 | Article by Robert M. Morris
While Michael Drenski's day-to-day work as Associate Director for Instrumentation at Tulane's PolyRMC center places him on the cutting-edge of materials science, he credits his widely-praised talents to lessons learned growing up on a small family farm in Ohio.
Drenski, who first arrived at Tulane as a physics graduate student, about 10 years ago, immediately stood out for his skills working with laboratory instrumentation, said Professor Wayne Reed, his mentor and now his employer at the PolyRMC center. Working with devices and machines came natural to Drenski, who said his father taught him as a small child to fix his own bicycles and go-karts on their farm in Bristolville, Ohio.
"If something breaks down, you have to fix it yourself," Drenski said of farm life. "So my forte has always been in designing instrumentation and building things."
"Michael manifested a strong talent for understanding, designing and building instrumentation, more so than any student I'd ever seen," Reed recalled. "He put together his strong scientific talent with real-world mechanical skills, and now you have someone who can design, build, and use amazing instrumentation in the laboratory."
Over the years, Drenski has quickly taken on an increasingly integral role in the School of Science and Engineering's Physics Department. He evacuated during Hurricane Katrina to the University of Massachusetts with Reed's research group, then he returned with them the following year.
That summer, Tulane launched the Center for Polymer Reaction Monitoring and Characterization (PolyRMC), and Drenski was hired as a full-time staff member.
Along the way, Drenski has shown himself to be an extremely versatile scientist, Reed said. In addition to his instrumentation skills, he has also co-authored numerous scientific papers in top flight publications. When the center has conferences, Drenski's presentations are always well-received, and despite his busy schedule, Drenski is also known within the department for always having time to lend a hand.
"He'll stop and put stuff down and go help a graduate student in distress," Reed said. "He's not just tied up in his own work. He's always willing to help."
Last year, the center launched Drenski's latest challenge, spinning off a startup company called Advanced Polymer Monitoring Technologies LLC with Drenski as Chief Technical Officer. APMT provides cutting-edge solutions to manufacturers of polymers, which are now involved in nearly every use imaginable: pharmaceuticals, personal care products, natural products, paints, construction materials, electronics, sensors, plexiglass, water purification, metallurgy, and even oil recovery, to name just a few, Reed said.
"We consider ourselves a green company, because we're making much better use of technology in these processes," Reed said. "We're hoping to save energy, non-renewable resources, and plant and personnel time, while reducing industrial emissions and saving and creating American manufacturing jobs. It's a huge field, and we've done work in most of those sectors, and we think we have a very strong future."
Drenski's role with the company is doing what he does best: designing and building precise instrumentation to test a specific material or simulate a precise situation, or monitor and control chemical reactions. And although APMT's stated goal is nothing short of becoming the world leader in monitoring and controlling complex molecular processes, Drenski still credits his talent to a more humble origin.
"I work on a different scale of things now, but the thing I learned on the farm is not to be hesitant," Drenski said. "When we have a problem that needs solving, I can usually sit down and build something. If something breaks, I can go ahead and fix it—find a solution."
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