New physical chemistry professor, lab coordinator join faculty

Sept. 16, 2013

Monika Reinholz
mreinhol@uccs.edu

The chemistry department has hired two new faculty members, Kevin Tvrdy and Keith Oppenheim.

Tvrdy teaches physical chemistry courses and replaces professor emeritus Jim Eberhart, who retired last spring. Oppenheim is a lab coordinator for general chemistry, a year-long course that includes CHEM 1030 and CHEM 1060.

Tvrdy earned his bachelor’s of science in chemistry from the University of Nebraska. After graduation in 2005, he worked for Streck Labs for a year. He worked in the research and development department for six to eight months before deciding to earn his Ph.D.

“I enjoyed the work I was doing, but again I felt that only with a bachelor’s degree that I had at that point, that I was capable of doing more innovative work within the company. I wanted to have more responsibility and wanted to have a higher pay scale,” Tvrdy said.

He obtained his Ph.D. in chemistry and biochemistry from the University of Notre Dame. Since his faculty advisor worked on nanoscience and solar cells, his Ph.D. research focused on the electron transfer that occurs between quantum dots and metal oxide materials in quantum dot synthesized solar cells.

When Tvrdy realized how much he enjoyed the academia, he decided to become a professor and completed his post-doctoral experience at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

During his two years at MIT, he worked in the chemical engineering department researching carbon nanotubes and isolating similar materials with optical and electronic properties.

He learned about the professor position at UCCS from an advertisement in the Chemical and Engineering News, a weekly magazine published by the American Chemical Society.

“The job here at UCCS was ideal because my wife is from Billings, Mont., and I’m from eastern Nebraska, so we kind of wanted some place [that] was halfway in between the two places, but we still wanted a place that had a lot of people living in it, a fairly big town,” Tvrdy said.

“We both enjoy the outdoors a lot, so Colorado Springs was a natural choice. UCCS is great for me because I definitely enjoy the research side of doing things with it, which they value here but they also value teaching here and I just love teaching.”

His goals for the students in his class are for them to learn enough physical chemistry to make them competitive with chemistry students from other universities.

Also, he said he wants his students to have perspective on how physical chemistry applies to other fields of chemistry and science in general.

In previous years, both general and organic chemistry labs were overseen by one coordinator, Brett Mayer.

However, the large number of incoming freshmen prompted the chemistry department to hire Oppenheim, a coordinator specifically for general chemistry.

He obtained his bachelor’s degree from Missouri Southern and Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Syracuse University.

Oppenheim has taught three years of general chemistry as well. He was also a lab coordinator at the University of Connecticut.

“The [UCCS] department seemed like a really good fit for what my skill set is and for what they [are] looking for on the teaching side of things,” Oppenheim said.

He indicated he wants to make sure students are able to more seamlessly attend make-up labs. Also, he is working at rewriting and streamlining the general chemistry laboratory manuals.