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Chemistry Alumnus Contributes Periodic Grand Accomplishments


By Brooke Nagorski ’17, Kira Smalley ’15 and Dan Steinberg, communication professor

Even though both his father and older brother were Otterbein graduates, chemistry
alumnus Steve Surface '65 had his eye on Yale University after high school. Surface said he wanted to get a good education, and he wanted to attend a college where he could enjoy himself. His brother said he would like Otterbein.

Surface trusted his brother, and was eventually convinced that Otterbein would offer him both a great and enjoyable education. Nearly 50 years later, like atoms, he remains positive about his decision.

Surface’s story is an inspiration to current chemistry majors. “They have the world by a string and should enjoy every moment,” he says, just as he did.

His captivation with chemistry began his sophomore year at Otterbein, when he took an organic chemistry course with professor Roy Turley. “My brain doesn’t seem to be in a memory mode as much as an analytical mode. I wanted to understand rather than memorize,” said Surface. “Dr. Turley and his organic chemistry class changed my ambitions from being a medical doctor to a chemist. Once I discovered it, I knew that chemistry would be my strong suit.”

After Otterbein, Surface felt well prepared to attend the University of Southern California, where he earned a master’s degree. Soon after leaving USC, he moved to Hawaii, where he took a job teaching high school. The next summer, he went to work as a chemist for the Navy at Pearl Harbor. This was the beginning of his 41-year career as a federal employee.

“I’d always heard the Navy was an adventure and not a job,” Surface said. “That is what I experienced.”

Surface accomplished much throughout his career, including working at the island naval facility on Diego Garcia to apply chemistry on ground water that resulted in utilizing one million gallons of water each day on the small atoll. Some of his work was the subject of various journal articles.

From the Navy he moved to the Defense Logistics Agency, part of the Department of Defense that makes purchases for U.S. war fighters.The Agency moved him to Washington, D.C., in 2000, where he was on loan to the Potomac Electric Power Company, and worked for the Undersecretary of Defense for Environmental Security.

Surface served as a co-chair for a NATO Science and Technology group comprised of members from eight countries and was a member on the U.S. team negotiating a global binding convention on mercury (signed in 2013) and presented before the United Nations Environmental Programme in Nairobi, Kenya. He retired in 2013.

Surface believes that the most important thing a college can provide its students is the idea that they can go anywhere and do anything after graduation. Otterbein, he says, did just that for him. He looks forward to attending his 50th reunion next year, which he thinks will be far better than the date Oxygen and Potassium went on recently. That went OK.