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Photo: Char Smullyan GS’98

Djordje Vuckovic CC’15 Uses Chemistry To Do Good

“I knew research interested me and that I wanted to major in a science.”

A chemistry major with an interest in environmental science, Djordje Vuckovic CC’15’s research at the College yielded a new material that he hopes will eventually be “used in factory and power plant filters to help clean the atmosphere.”

Vuckovic worked in the lab of Jeffrey Koberstein, the Percy K. and Vida L.W. Hudson Professor of Chemical Engineering, where he investigated carbon sequestration — the capture and storage of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as a way to mitigate climate change. There he designed a molecule that, depending on its temperature, has the ability to absorb and release carbon dioxide. “It has a fairly high absorption capacity,” Vuckovic says.
Vuckovic was one of a handful of incoming students who are admitted to the College each year as Science Research Fellows, which guarantees two summer research opportunities, facilitation of research during the academic year, access to a $10,000 stipend across four years and other benefits. “I knew research interested me and that I wanted to major in a science,” says Vuckovic, who was born in and spent his early years in New York City before moving to his parents’ native Serbia, where he attended middle school and high school.
Last summer, through a National Science Foundation-funded program at the European Center for Research and Education in Geosciences and the Environment in France, Vuckovic studied the possibility of using elemental iron nanoparticles to purify groundwater. In his final semester at the College, he turned his attention to improving atom transfer radical polymerization, a technique used to synthesize small molecules to form long chains of repeating units, called polymers.
Vuckovic, who was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in May, hopes to begin a Ph.D. program this fall to continue his research on polymers, which have potential applications across a range of scientific fields. “I’m interested in chemistry that has an environmental application but also possible biomedical applications, such as drug delivery and tumor imaging,” says Vuckovic.
Throughout his time at Columbia, Vuckovic could often be found training with the Columbia University Ballroom Dance Team. Vuckovic, who first attempted ballroom dancing in high school but did not begin competing until he joined CUBDT, found that the hobby brought balance to his undergraduate years. “As soon as I’d hear that music and we’d start moving on the floor, I’d realize, ‘Wow, this is amazing. Maybe research isn’t the only thing. There are other things in life that are also important.’”
Vuckovic’s favorite dances are the foxtrot and the quickstep, and he is particularly proud of a mentorship program he spearheaded as president of CUBDT his junior year, which pairs beginner dance couples with more advanced members of the club. “It’s shown everyone that anyone can learn how to dance,” says Vuckovic. “We noticed that dancers improved faster and team spirit grew.”
Nathalie Alonso CC’08, from Queens, is a freelance journalist and an editorial producer for, Major League Baseball’s official Spanish language website. She writes “Student Spotlight” for CCT.

This article was originally published in Columbia College Today.
Published Wednesday June 24, 2015

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