Science teachers reach high levels of achievement

ETHS has good chemistry.

It also has great biology courses, excellent physics classes, and many more interesting science courses. The exceptional science program is fueled in part by the array of talented teachers who have had amazing accomplishments in the scientific field. Among these educators are Dr. Mark Vondracek, Dr. Russell Kohnken, and Dr. Joel Weiner.

Vondracek has a Ph.D. in experimental high energy particle physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was part of the team that established the existence of the top quark in 1995 at Fermilab near Batavia.

“I am the first in my family to earn a doctorate, so that is something my parents are very proud of,” says Vondracek. “I must admit, it was pretty cool being at Fermilab when the top quark was discovered and the world press descended on the lab.”

Known as “Doc V” around the school, Vondracek has been teaching at ETHS since 1998.

“I really enjoy learning from students, who tend to ask very probing questions and make me think about things in ways that are new to me,” says Vondracek.

Another teacher who continues a successful scientific career is Kohnken, or “Doc K”.

Kohnken received his Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1983 from Michigan State University and went on to apply his knowledge to Alzheimer’s research. He holds a patent issued for a purified antigen for Alzheimer’s disease, and the methods for obtaining and using that antigen. This antigen could be used for a variety of purposes, including the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

“What I’m most proud of in my work is that anytime someone tries to reproduce it, they’ve been able to, and this is extremely important in science,” says Kohnken.

Kohnken has been teaching chemistry and AP chemistry at ETHS since 2001.

Chemistry teacher Joel Weiner has also made contributions to the scientific community. He has been teaching at ETHS since 2000 and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in molecular biology. After graduating in 1994, Weiner went on to the University of Chicago for a postdoctoral fellowship in the biochemistry of fibrotic disease.

It was there that he discovered a new protein involved in changes in gene expression. This discovery resulted in his being published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, one of the most prestigious chemistry journals in the world.

“I have always been interested in science, having been exposed to it since a young age,” says Weiner. “I like science because it’s how you understand and discover things about nature.”

ETHS is extremely lucky to have such an amazing science staff.