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Fall 2023 Edition
Alumni & Friends Magazine

Last Word with Dr. Srdjan Nesic

Ohio University’s newest Distinguished Professor discusses what he loves about his field and teaching it to others.

Carmen Szukaitis | October 2, 2023


Dr. Srdjan Nesic holds an esteemed trifecta of titles: Director of the Institute for Corrosion and Multiphase Technology, Russ Professor of Chemical Engineering in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology and Ohio University Distinguished Professor—the latter of which he earned just last fall. He is the recipient of numerous awards that recognize his contributions to the study of corrosion science and the effectiveness of his teaching methods, and he has authored hundreds of papers and scientific reports in his field. 

Nesic has lived all around the world, including former Yugoslavia, Libya, Canada, Norway and Australia. He has called Athens home since 2002, longer than any other place, naming it at the top of his list of favorite places to live.

There isn't a better thing you can give someone than knowledge. My joy is to share what I know and do it in a sincere way.

What is your philosophy on teaching?

There are a couple of tenets of how I approach teaching. One is, I only talk about things that I think I understand well enough, because if I don't understand it, I can't teach it. In class, you should be able to defend everything you say and explain things differently if asked. 

The second important thing that comes naturally to me is, I like to teach. I want students to feel that I'm excited about the things that I teach. I often get comments that I deliver high-energy presentations; they can feel my passion and interest in the subject matter, and that is contagious. In class, I give it everything I have—every lecture is almost like a long sprint. 

How do you ignite your passion when you teach?

There isn't a better thing you can give someone than knowledge. My joy is to share what I know and do it in a sincere way. I feel that interacting with young people is inspiring. It always sounds like a cliche, but the curiosity [students] have, and the ability to spark something in them, is so wonderful. 

How do you feel your work benefits society?

I derive huge pride from seeing my students succeed in their professional work but also become productive members of society. They go on to get these high degrees, and then on top of those successes, they get good jobs and move forward in their careers. Learning about their successes is the moment where I feel this hot and fuzzy feeling inside that I did something right. That's the biggest satisfaction I have in my line of work. 

Dr. Dugh Sherman, former OHIO President, gives Srdjan Nesic his distinguished professor award

Dr. Hugh Sherman, then-President of Ohio University, gives Dr. Srdjan Nesic, professor in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology and director of the Institute for Corrosion and Multiphase Flow Technology, his Distinguished Professor award at Nesic’s Distinguished Professor Lecture and Portrait Unveiling in the Baker Ballroom in Athens, Ohio. Photo by: Dylan Benedict, BSVC ’22

You mentioned that corrosion came to you accidentally; how did you get into this field?

It was a combination of accident and necessity. When I started my Ph.D. in Canada, I landed with an advisor who I found out that I didn't like working with. I did not feel I could spend years with someone I did not work well with, so I had to drop that line of research. I had to find a new advisor, and quickly, or I would have to quit my Ph.D. program and go home to Yugoslavia. I didn't want to go back defeated, so I inquired around, talked to a few professors, and found this knowledgeable and charismatic guy, professor John Postlethwaite, who became my academic and research advisor in the field of corrosion. I told him right away that I knew virtually nothing about that subject matter, and he replied to not worry about it, and that I would learn, and that he was there to teach me. Either way, I had few choices left, so I said, “Let's do it,” and gave it all I had. In one hour, I made a decision, which was the biggest one of my professional career, and I never looked back.

What do you like about working in the field of corrosion?

I got attracted to it for two reasons. Corrosion is a bit like corruption, and I often use that analogy; corruption, like corrosion is ugly. It's also very important, and if you don't do anything about it, it can harm the whole society. Corrosion is like that, too. It's important and costly if you don't deal with it. The importance of it attracted me, even if the physical appearance of decay associated with corrosion is not necessarily attractive. 

The other reason is its complexity. Complicated things present so many challenges to improve or find something new. That is not true for some of the classical sciences that have been studied for centuries and for which the main questions have been answered. Corrosion is a relatively young scientific discipline, and we still need to learn a lot about it. The answers to the problems lie at the intersection of metallurgy, electrochemistry and chemical engineering. I found it very fruitful to work in a field where there's much newness to be found and gained. 

Why is the study of corrosion significant beyond practical applications like architecture and manufacturing?

Corrosion is a decay of metals over time, and as you well understand, metals were and still are at the heart of our civilization. We humans started developing rapidly by building tools, which were most effective when made from metals. So, metals have been and still are the backbone of most things built in our world. Working in a field where you can help those metals last longer and serve their purpose better gives you a sense of doing something important.

What keeps Athens at the top of your list of favorite places you’ve lived?

I think everyone who has lived here for a while knows it, although it’s not always easy to put your finger on. But if I try, it is the whole vibe of this place. I like the fact that it’s small and that there are so many interesting people living close to each other, thanks to the University. We have all these students—the energy, the talents, the fun they bring—and then you have all these people who work at the University who are from all over the world, and they're also interesting and fun. Athens has that special sense of a diverse community. Somehow, we felt right at home very soon after we came.