Student remembered for his enthusiasm, intellect
Mikhail Vinaykin, a Ph.D. candidate in the chemistry department who was known for his ‚Äúcontagious curiosity,‚ÄĚ died in a motorcycle accident on Exposition Boulevard on Tuesday morning. He was 24.
Vinaykin grew up in Russia and attended St. Petersburg State University, where he received his undergraduate degree in physics. He moved to the United States to begin his graduate program in chemistry at USC in 2009.
Professors endearingly referred to Vinaykin as ‚ÄúMisha‚ÄĚ and described him as an enthusiastic student who had a knack for the sciences.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve been around for a long time so there‚Äôs not many things that surprise me,‚ÄĚ said Professor Alex Benderskii, Vinaykin‚Äôs research adviser. ‚ÄúBut Misha surprised me almost on a daily basis, and that‚Äôs really special.‚ÄĚ
Vinaykin was in his fourth year of the program. His research focused on ultrafast nonlinear spectroscopy with a focus on hydrogen bonding and water. Vinaykin‚Äôs peers said they remembered his dedication and a commitment that had very few limits.
‚ÄúMisha was highly motivated and very interested in science and knowledge,‚ÄĚ said Fadel Shalhout, a graduate student who worked with Vinaykin. ‚ÄúIf he experienced problems in research he spent all night in the lab figuring it out.‚ÄĚ
Professor Jahan Dawlaty, a first assistant professor of chemistry, said he was immediately impressed with Vinaykin when he came to USC. Vinaykin inquired the most and seemed the most engaged in discussions, he said.
‚ÄúMisha asked questions until he had the right answer, which was the sign of a good scientist,‚ÄĚ Dawlaty said.
Vinaykin was Dawlaty‚Äôs teaching assistant for his upper-level chemistry class this semester. He connected with the juniors and seniors he taught, Dawlaty said. The day after Vinaykin‚Äôs death, Dawlaty began his class with a minute of silence.
‚ÄúHe certainly did have a fan club of students because some [students] only attended his discussion session,‚ÄĚ Dawlaty said. ‚ÄúMany students were quite sad and shocked.‚ÄĚ
Students outside the chemistry department also admired his curiosity.
‚ÄúHe was always asking questions and he was eager to learn more about the French language,‚ÄĚ said Annie Capaldi, an undeclared freshman in his French class. ‚ÄúI think we all gained a little bit by being in the class with him and witnessing his passion for learning.‚ÄĚ
Vinaykin, in addition to sharing his passions for the sciences, also had an infectious personality. Graduate students who studied with him said he had a good sense of humor and a love for travel.
‚ÄúIn his 24 years of living,‚ÄĚ Shalhout said, ‚Äúhe probably experienced as much as a 100-year-old man. He lived life to the fullest.‚ÄĚ
Vinaykin‚Äôs death has left a vacancy in the department that will not be easily filled, Benderskii said.
‚ÄúHe absolutely had a big role in the chemistry department,‚ÄĚ Benderskii said. ‚ÄúEveryone knew him, and he had a lot of friends and a lot of faculty knew him and were enthusiastic about his prospects.‚ÄĚ
Columbia University and other top institutions were courting him for his two- to three-year post-doctoral work, according to Benderskii.
Vinaykin‚Äôs parents are flying into Los Angeles on Thursday from Russia. Plans for a memorial service are pending.