At Wayne State, Tom Kuntzleman is known as an assistant professor of teaching in Chemistry. However, the internet knows him best as “Tommy Technetium,” or “Professor TikTok.”
Whatever you call him, Kuntzleman embodies the university’s strategic plan as it relates to teaching and learning, and outreach and engagement. With nearly 400,000 combined subscribers to his YouTube channel and TikTok channel, Kuntzleman is making the most of his opportunity to share the magic of science with future scientists around the world, in addition to the Warrior community.
“I grew up in a small town and had limited access to this type of stuff,” Kuntzleman said. “The first time I saw a live experiment was my freshman year in college and I was hooked. I thought this is what I want to do with my life.”
A former eighth grade teacher, Kuntzleman challenged himself to perform one experiment every day striving to inspire that same sense of joy and wonder in his own students. He joined the Wayne State faculty this fall and he now brings that refined skill to WSU’s classrooms and beyond as “Tommy Technetium.”
“The wonderful part of being a kid is that everything is new,” said Kuntzleman. “Doing science experiments makes me feel like a kid. There’s some magic in it every time and I want to help my students to have that same feeling every day.”
Like many, he discovered the true reach of social media during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. For fun, Kuntzleman contributed blog posts to Chemical Education Xchange, a community for chemistry educators to share learning resources, collaborate and interact.
“I wanted to share videos of the experiments I was talking about,” Kuntzleman said. “The site didn’t support hosting videos so the web administrator told me I could post the videos to YouTube and then link back on the blog. When the pandemic hit, TikTok took off and YouTube, it seems, tried to compete with YouTube shorts (videos 60 seconds or less in length). Making these shorter videos seemed like a good challenge so I tried it out and to my surprise, people watched them. When the channel started gaining traction, I thought it was a great opportunity to teach beyond the classroom and community with science as the focus.”
In these videos, Kunzleman leverages key cultural moments to demonstrate and explain the science behind anything from science used in scenes from the hit show, Breaking Bad to even taking a twist on the popular Coca-Cola and Mentos experiments. He recently demonstrated the Mentos experiment to children at Bring Your Child to Work Day at WSU this year – the response to the reaction was the gleeful celebration he’s come to love over the years. The response to these videos has also taught him a great deal.
“You’re talking to someone who has spent most of their life as an introverted person,” Kuntzleman said. “Connecting with students of chemistry through social media has been powerful for me as a human. What I’ve learned about doing outreach to people through science is that I love connecting with people. We get immersed in science and everything else falls away letting us focus on what really matters – learning!”
Only in his first semester teaching at Wayne State University, Kuntzleman has big plans in mind to connect with the community.
“I’m loving it here,” said Kuntzleman. “It’s early in my career with Wayne State University and I have had students approach me about the videos with great questions. I hope to involve them in future videos. It’s a big world and I’m ready to engage with it – where else but WSU could I do it in an impactful way?”
This semester, you can find Prof. Kuntzleman teaching CHM140, CHM1140 and CHM 1145 at Wayne State University