(JACKSON, Miss.) – Most people go through their entire life never meeting a head of state, but Jackson State University chemistry professor Jerzy Leszczynski will soon be able to boast that he’s met two world leaders: U.S. President Barack Obama and Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.
Leszczynski, who leads the Interdisciplinary Center for Nanotoxicity at JSU, was honored by Obama at the White House last year with the coveted Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. Now the chemistry professor has received an invitation to visit the Polish presidential palace to receive the title “professor.”
“In some European countries, they have the title of professor, which is the highest title you can get,” said Leszczynski, a native of Poland who earned his Ph.D. in chemistry in 1975. “The title stays with you for your whole life.”
Leszczynski’s colleagues in Poland nominated him for his native country’s highest academic honor more than two years ago. After many levels of review, he was chosen to receive the highly selective honor. Less than 400 people (including three to five researchers working outside Poland) a year achieve the status of professor in Poland, which has a population close to 39 million.
“I’m very happy because I left Poland about 25 years ago, but I have a strong Polish connection,” said Leszczynski, who in 2007 received the prestigious Marie Curie medal from the Polish Chemical Society. “It’s very nice to hear that the Polish government recognizes my achievements in the United States.”
The invitation from the Polish president came on the same day that Leszczynski received notice that his second paper within five months will be published in one of the world’s most prestigious scientific publications, the journal Nature Nanotechnology. According to the Journal Citation Report Science Edition, Nature is the most highly cited interdisciplinary science journal in the world.
“Nature not only publishes the best research in the world but research that is of general interest,” Leszczynski said. “It’s basically as high as you can go.”
Leszczynski’s newest paper examines nanomaterials, which have become a driving force in science and technology. The JSU professor’s work looks at the effects of these tiny particles – which are so small they can be absorbed by organisms – have on the environment and human beings. His research team includes chemists, biologists, civil engineers and environmental scientists who work from labs in the United States, Poland and Italy. The team has developed a theoretical method to predict the toxicity of new, unknown nanomaterials – before they are produced. This method could avert the use of such chemicals as the pesticide DDT, which was used widely in the 1940s and 1950s before being discovered to be harmful to people and the environment.
Leszczynski said he appreciates the strong support he gets from Jackson State University.
“I’m getting support at each level, from the chemistry department chair up to the vice president for research and federal relations Dr. Felix Okojie,” Leszczynski said. “Whenever we need any help, we give Dr. Okojie a call and our problems are solved.”