Professor Spotlight: Dr. Michael Barankin

Dr. Barankin joined the Chemical and Biochemical Engineering department this fall. Born in Sacramento, CA he earned his bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering at UCLA. Barankin went on to earn his master’s degree and doctorate in Chemical Engineering at TU Delft in the Netherlands with a dissertation on novel methods for producing coatings using plasma at atmospheric pressures.

Barankin found his way to the Netherlands through a professor at UCLA who taught him momentum transport.

“He had one problem on the first midterm that had no numbers,” Barankin recalled. The problem asked students to estimate the size of a dust particle that might fly into your eye on a windy day.

“I was used to problems that have numbers,” said Barankin, “I wrote one sentence: ‘this is a stupid question.’” The professor took the time to respond to that answer.

“He wrote a paragraph below saying that engineers are often called upon to make back of envelope calculations and that this is a skill you have to develop if you want to be an engineer.” That response really made an impact on him, said Barankin, and the professor years later connected him to another professor at Delft where Barankin was able to study. Barankin always knew he wanted to teach.

“I knew I wanted to teach in high school. I tutored my water polo coach in math,” he said. “I just realized how much I loved teaching someone something and seeing that light go off in their head. I knew I wanted to chase that the rest of my life.” He has taught classes such as mass and energy balances, fluids, catalysts but he says transport phenomena is his favorite.

“You finally use all the high level math that was hard to learn,” Barankin explained. “You’re solving real, actual problems, not theoretical math stuff.”

He noted that he wants to be known as a highly accessible professor. “I think that’s the most important aspect of being a professor,” he said, “My grandfather used to say ‘the university is a great place if it weren’t for all the students’ which I find abhorrent. He saw teaching as a necessary evil of his job when I think it’s the best part.”

As for life in Colorado compared to the Netherlands, Barakin says the weather is much better in Colorado.

“Seasons happen,” he said, “and you get to see the sun.” He does, however, miss the food in the Netherlands, and the culture. Specifically the political culture, he noted, is more interesting because they have five political parties. The culture among students is also different. Students in the US are more competitive, meaning they generally perform better, he explained. Dutch students tend to do the minimum needed to pass. The programs are also quite different with Dutch students starting on a tracked system in junior high.

In his spare time, Barankin enjoys gardening and watching movies and TV shows. He is currently growing butterfly bush, cat mint, Russian sage, rosemary, mint, and thyme. “I sort of have a black thumb,” Barankin admits. Therefore, he often asks his wife to help keep the plants alive. His favorite shows include South Park, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Criminal Minds, and Archer. Barankin is also looking forward to skiing/snowboarding in Colorado, saying that outdoor skiing is not available in the Netherlands but indoor skiing is. Overall, Barankin said, he enjoys CSM.

“So far in the two months I’ve grown to love it even more than I thought I would,” he expressed. “I like the Mines culture and especially the students.”

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