Meet Dr. Mike Mazzotta, a research chemist at Eastman Chemical Company and gourmet mushroom enthusiast. Mike is an Associate of the national YCC. Mike’s profile is part of “Meet the YCC”, a series of blog posts highlighting YCC members and associates and what they do both in and outside of ACS.
Mike Mazzotta (he/him/his)
YCC subcommittee: Governance Interface and Outreach (GIO)
Other ACS Involvement:
Public Outreach Co-Chair, Tennessee-Virginia Highlands Section of the ACS (TVHS-ACS)
B.S., Chemistry, Eastern Kentucky University
Ph.D., Synthetic Chemistry, Purdue University
When and why did you join the YCC?
I joined the national YCC in 2022 and was drawn to join because I knew it was such a dynamic organization with great people! The prospect of working with other early career professionals to shape the ACS with our vision for the future was very alluring because I think our generation is going to have some major challenges. The biggest challenge facing younger chemists today is a rapidly changing, complex world. Our generation is facing critical environmental issues, extreme political polarization, drastic changes in the workplace, and mass migration that are all going to put us at the forefront of solving big problems. However, I think this also brings opportunities for chemists and engineers to work together to solve these problems and innovate in ways that are sustainable and equitable for future generations. We must remember solidarity and our skills for problem-solving because we can do great things together! This is our time!
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on the Younger Chemists Caucus, which endeavors to create a caucus within the ACS Council to increase awareness among younger chemists about what Council does and increase the representation of younger chemists within Council. Having more younger chemists as members of Council ensures that we are driving key decisions on the future of the American Chemical Society that we will inherit.
What is your favorite project you have been a part of with the YCC?
My favorite project thus far has been to start a Local Section YCC with the Tennessee-Virginia Highlands Section of the ACS (TVHS-ACS). Local engagement is a new experience for me, and I see how engagement on this level influences young scientists at the universities in the area. I’ve also witnessed that a strong relationship between industry and academia is built in the process: students find out more about industry and industries can find new talented chemists and engineers to hire. Northeast Tennessee is known for its robust chemical infrastructure, which creates great opportunities for academic-industry synergy! It seems to me that getting involved in your Local Section closes the loop of ACS engagement: you get involved with the national YCC, build a mechanism for new younger chemists to get involved, and then pass that onto the younger chemists. It’s exciting!
What is your favorite part about being on the YCC?
The people! Every time I go to a National Meeting and get to see the people of YCC, I feel happy 😊. It’s always great to get together with friends after we finish up with governance—exploring the food, sights and sounds of the city we’re in—and I always appreciate meeting new people and making new friends!
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing younger chemists today?
The biggest challenge facing younger chemists is the lack of commitment to, or the lack of action toward, diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect. While there has been a strong push to center this challenge, we are still a long way away from meeting the goals set forth by these initiatives of making chemistry, and science in general, a safe place for everyone. It is crucial we put all our effort into addressing this challenge to truly advance chemistry. How are we, as chemical professionals, supposed to address the problems presented by the myriad challenges facing younger chemists—our (lack of) career opportunities and the implementation of automation, climate change and environmental concerns, mental health and well-being (including work-life balance), and the polarization of science and our social responsibility as scientists and engineers—if we cannot be heard or are leaving the field due to discrimination, toxic work culture, or lack of financial resources? It is only when we create an environment in which all voices are heard, opportunities are accessible to all, and people are valued for their contributions that we can effectively address the other challenges facing younger chemists.
What is something you want every younger chemist to know?
There are no opportunities lost, so cast aside the fear of better options mindset. I lived in a manner where I was afraid of not taking the “best route” throughout grad school and postdoc. Now I have realized that the unique pathway I took was simply opening doors and closing others. It’s overwhelming for us sometimes to choose what’s “best”, but there is no “best” pathway. There is only your own unique pathway that will contribute value and harmony in some way to the universe.
What is something you are most proud of?
Spending 37 days out at sea in the tropical North Atlantic! When I started my postdoc at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (where I was between 2018 and 2022), my postdoc advisor asked me if I wanted to go on a cruise to do field work. Yearning to go to sea and anxious to experience what field science was like, I enthusiastically accepted. Within two weeks of starting my postdoc, I jumped on a plane to Cape Verde and helped load the research ship with gear before setting sail. It was an experience that was totally out of my comfort zone because I was doing tough science in an environment that was especially difficult to do science in (i.e., trying to do trace metal geochemistry on a ship). However, as soon as I hit the open ocean, I got over my anxiety—being out there, surrounded by water really put it into perspective. I did my measurements to the best of my ability, got some cool data, and made some great friends as a result! It was an experience that showed me how far I could push my limits of comfort.
How has your career taken a unique or unexpected path?
When I was in my fourth year of grad school, my advisor in an organometallic chemistry research group moved to another university. I was presented with the option to either move with him or leave his group. It was a tough decision, but I left the research group and finished up in a group working on biomimetic polymer chemistry. This ended up being an opportunity to gain different skills and contribute to an entirely different field that I never had worked in. It also led me more to environmental chemistry because the polymers were inspired by marine organisms, which I followed into my postdoc at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. I then merged the two subjects—synthetic and environmental chemistry—to build skills in a unique and blossoming field of study: the fate of plastics in the environment. I never would have built my skills in environmental chemistry had I not switched labs in graduate school. It was a very tough decision for me at the time, but as I look back, it was a great decision that worked out well!
What are your favorite things to do for fun?
I love hiking with my dog, Baxter. It’s an activity for us both to be immersed in nature and explore. He loves to sniff around, and I love to forage for gourmet and medicinal mushrooms. Hiking with Baxter has led to my interest in growing gourmet mushrooms at home, which I do as a fun side hobby. It brings me a lot of joy to see these organisms grow into beautiful and delicious mushrooms.