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PROFILE // Pavel Kepezhinskas

visiting professor of geology, University of South Florida

GEOLOGICAL FAMILY: Pavel Kepezhinskas, 33, was raised in a small scientific village near the industrial town of Novosibirsk in southeastern Siberia. Kepezhinskas likes to say that he comes from a "geological family" because his parents worked at the Institute of the Academy of Science in the Institute of Geology and Geophysics. Despite growing up in a community filled with scientists and hearing geological discussions at home, Kepezhinskas (pronounced KEP-EH-JINS-KAS) did not want a career in science. "When I was in high school, I was looking forward to literature, maybe something like that. On the other hand, I was keen on chemistry (but) I wasn't really interested in geology at that moment." But one side of geology was very attractive to him _ travel. "I said, "Well, travel is great, I would love to travel, but then geology, I don't know, these stones, I just don't know.' "

LEARNING ENGLISH, MILITARY STYLE: While growing up in Siberia, Kepezhinskas was enrolled in a special English school where classes included a class in military translation in the ninth grade. "For two years, we were trained how to ask questions if an American soldier was kept somewhere in Russia," he chuckled. "Actually, at that stage, I probably had more of the military terms (in English) than anything else. But, it was good because we were really well-trained."

EDUCATED IN MOSCOW: Kepezhinskas' parents encouraged him to pursue geo-chemistry because of the opportunity to study in the field and to travel. He earned a masters in geo-chemistry and petrology at Moscow State and a doctoral degree in geo-chemistry and volcanology at the Academy of Science in Moscow in 1987.

VOLCANOES OF RED TAPE: Traveling in Russia during the Cold War was difficult even for Kepezhinskas. His mother, a volcanologist, had some friends in the Kamchatka peninsula who needed a student to study one of Kamchatka's 250 volcanoes. But Kamchatka was a military area and it was not easy to travel there, especially in the mid-1980s. "In order to get there you submit a file of paperwork (about 3 inches thick). It goes through the police, it was going through the KGB, it was going through all these structures and then you were getting a special stamp on your passport, and then, only then, you can buy a ticket."

OCEAN-TRAVELER: A chance to travel again coincided with an interest in marine geology after his work in Kamchatka. Kepezhinskas became involved in an international deep-sea drilling program that began to study the huge fracture zones in the Mid-Atlantic ridge, a large geological formation that runs the length of the Atlantic sea floor. "Not much was known at that stage about the origin of these things. Where they are coming from . . . and what was going on with these huge scars on the face of the ocean." He sailed from the Russian port of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, working with scientists from around the world and staying out at sea for months at a time. "Russian cruises were always long because it was expensive to take the ship all the way to the Atlantic and then go back in a couple of weeks. Once you're out there, you kind of stay."

USF'S LINK TO KAMCHATKA: In 1991 Kepezhinskas caught the attention of the University of South Florida's geology department. Faculty member Marc Defant read a translated version in the International Geologic Review of a paper Kepezhinskas wrote on a model he proposed on the subduction of the oceanic crust and how it melts as it descends below the earth's surface. The same concept in subduction was being studied at USF. "They saw this paper, and Kamchatka has a very good setting to try to test this model in the nature of the environment, so they wrote me a letter saying, if you are interested, it looks like we have similar ideas. . . . Why don't we put down a proposal and submit it to the National Science Foundation to see if we can get funding?" They were quickly funded and Kepezhinskas was teamed up with Defant and other scientists in the summer of 1991 in Kamchatka.

"DR. K' ON CAMPUS: The next year he was invited to USF's department of geology where he continued his subduction research for the foundation. After he arrived in Tampa with his wife, a geophysicist, and his daughter, who has an interest in rocks and fossils, Kepezhinskas was asked to teach a class on the structure of the earth and plate tectonics at Eckerd College. After teaching in Italy and England, he decided to give teaching in the United States a try. He began teaching oceanography at USF's Tampa campus the following summer. Called "Dr. K" by his students, Kepezhinskas continues to teach at USF. This semester he is teaching Geology for Engineers, The Earth Revealed on an open university TV course and Introduction to Oceanography, which is broadcast and taped from USF's Tampa campus to the Lakeland campus through the school's distance learning program. He also travels to Kamchatka each summer to continue his field research.