Biotech leader leaves legacy of education, research

June 7, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by South Dakota Biotech.

A statewide leader in biotechnology retires this month after a 40-year teaching career that includes serving as vice president of research at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.

Dr. Jan Puszynski was a full professor of chemical engineering, college dean and interim president, and he educated several generations of undergraduate students and supervised numerous graduate students who went on to work in industry and academia. Puszynski has published more than 200 peer-reviewed papers, presented more than 300 technical contributions and invited talks, obtained several patents and has been awarded with numerous national and international education and research awards. He is a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

He’s also a board member of South Dakota Biotech, the state affiliate of the international BIO organization.

We looked back with this key figure in research and education and got his perspective on the direction of bioscience in the state.

Forty years is a long look back, but what do you consider your greatest accomplishment in that time?

Definitely, education of several generations of students. At the same time, I was able to make a significant contribution to science and engineering through my R&D work in the area of nanotechnology, energetic and advanced materials, which was continuously funded by the Department of Defense, National Science Foundation and the industry.

In eastern South Dakota, the School of Mines flies a bit under the radar. What would you like the business community there to know about what’s happening in research at the school?

More and more students are employed by companies in eastern South Dakota. When I came to SD Mines in 1991, 100 percent of graduating chemical engineers were employed by companies from other states. Later, it started to change — POET and Raven started employing chemical engineers from South Dakota School of Mines &Technology.  Now, approximately 15 of them are working for POET alone. Definitely, there is an improvement, but still 80 to 85 percent of chemical engineers find employment outside the state. This is a heart-breaking situation to me personally. Yes, we need more recruiters from eastern South Dakota companies so more of our students will find good job opportunities here in our state.

What work at the School of Mines is most promising to you? What technology and research will you be keeping an eye on there in retirement?

Twenty years ago, I started a small company in Rapid City. This defense contractor company has grown with my initial help to more than 10 employees. Innovative Materials and Processes LLC is conducting numerous contracts with the Army and the Navy. It is a well-recognized company in the area of novel energetic materials, specializing in additive manufacturing of a wide variety of initiators and ignition delay systems. I am looking forward to assist the company in various activities, but I would like to serve as a mentor to IMP employees who are veterans and former and current SD Mines students.

As a member of the board of South Dakota Biotech, you have a front-row seat to the industry statewide. What kind of promise do you see for this industry, and what areas in particular excite you looking toward the future?

This was a great and rewarding experience for me. As a chemical engineer and also as an entrepreneur, I see a huge potential for South Dakota. Traditional agricultural products we are selling to others can be significantly enhanced by processing them here in the state.

What’s next for you? Do you plan to stay involved in the biotech community?

My research area is more focused on materials development, but my broader experience could be used by others to enhance technological developments and industrial scale-up expertise for manufacturing of value-added agricultural products.

Keep up with the latest in the South Dakota bioscience industry by visiting sdbio.org. 

Biotech leader leaves legacy of education, research

A statewide leader in biotechnology retires this month after a 40-year teaching career that includes serving as vice president of research at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.

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