Volume 89 Issue 22 | p. 59
Issue Date: May 30, 2011


Chemistry professor Vasile Gutsanu has lived through Soviet and independent rule
Department: ACS News
Keywords: Moldova, Europe, ionic polymers, IYC, ACS
Gutsanu (far right) stands with graduate students and colleagues in a lab at Moldova State University.
Credit: Courtesy of Vasile Gutsanu
Gutsanu (far right) stands with graduate students and colleagues in a lab at Moldova State University.
Credit: Courtesy of Vasile Gutsanu

One day when Vasile Gutsanu was a teenager in his native Moldova, he read in a magazine about the discovery of a new elementary nuclear particle. “I was surprised,” Gutsanu says. “I knew that the atomic nucleus consists of protons, neutrons, and electrons. It was so clear and simple. The discovery changed my view on atomic structure”—and on science.

Gutsanu’s teachers, he says, had presented science as a closed system of knowledge. Reading about the new particle opened his eyes to the fact that science is continually evolving, he says. Gutsanu went on to study chemistry, earning a Ph.D. from Moldova State University in 1974. He worked at the Moldova Academy of Sciences as a researcher for several years before taking faculty positions at several universities. In 1993, he earned a higher doctorate—a D.Sc. in chemistry—from Moldova State University.

Today, Gutsanu is a chemistry professor at Moldova State University, and he says that one of the things he tries to emphasize to his students is that chemistry is a creative, constantly developing endeavor. Gutsanu teaches physical chemistry to undergraduates, as well as special topics courses for seniors and graduate students. Overall, the university’s Faculty of Chemistry & Chemical Technology includes about 60 faculty members who teach about 400 undergraduate and 100 graduate students.

Although teaching is Gutsanu’s main focus, he also researches the properties of ionic polymers. His recent work explores the formation and properties of ultrafine metallic compounds sequestered in cross-linked, strongly basic polymers (J. Appl. Polym. Sci., DOI: 10.1002/app.32615). The polymer-metal complexes create a new system that can function as a sorbent or catalyst, he says.

Gutsanu’s career has spanned two epochs of Moldovan history: Moldova, which is sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, was part of the Soviet Union until the country declared independence in 1991. Under the Soviet regime, Moldova was known for research on coordination and quantum chemistry. Scientists had access to chemicals, but instrumentation was limited, Gutsanu says. Now, both are expensive and can be difficult to source. Instrumentation at Moldova State University is typically purchased for educational purposes, so Gutsanu and his colleagues must collaborate with other institutions to gain access to techniques such as electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy, X-ray spectroscopy, and electron microscopy.

Gutsanu notes that under Soviet rule, scientists didn’t have the opportunity to communicate and collaborate with foreign colleagues. He now holds the distinction of being the only American Chemical Society member living in Moldova. He joined ACS in part to be more informed about what is happening in the world of chemical science, he says. Gutsanu’s native language is Moldovan, which is essentially the same as Romanian; he also speaks Russian, Ukranian, and “a little” English.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with an economy heavily dependent on agriculture—in particular fruits, vegetables, wine, and tobacco. Chemistry graduates who stay in Moldova typically work in education, the food or electrical industries, medical institutions, or ecology, Gutsanu says. Others leave. “Quite a few of our graduates are now working as chemists, researchers, and lecturers in France, Germany, Canada, and the U.S.,” Gutsanu says. Such a “brain drain” is endemic to countries in Southeast Europe, according to the 2010 Science Report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization.

Moldova has also faced significant political uncertainty in recent years: Three elections in 2009 and 2010 failed to give any party or coalition enough votes in the Moldovan Parliament to elect a president. As the country continues its transition from a socialist to a market-based economy, there are deep divisions among its people, Gutsanu says. “Most people want the country to join the European Union in the future,” he says, but others are nostalgic for the past and are against EU membership. Gutsanu hopes that the country will come together soon to agree on a path to economic development that will improve the quality of life for everyone.

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