Ivan Temnykh AEP '08: Follow your passion

Ivan Temnykh, AEP '08

Ivan Temnykh, AEP '08, pursues his passion using knowledge gained as an engineering physics major

A: Your career path after Cornell took an interesting turn. Please tell us about it.

Ivan Temnykh works on a car engine.
Ivan Temnykh works on a car engine.

A: After graduating from Cornell, I spent three years pursuing a Ph.D. in Materials Science at Penn State University, and after that, ended up starting a small business. I founded Pine Hollow Auto Diagnostics (PHAD), specializing in taking a scientific approach to solving tough driveability and electrical problems on any year, make, or model car, truck, or motorcycle. PHAD also offers on-site diagnostics for Genie/JLG construction equipment. We use advanced diagnostic equipment (OEM-level scanners, oscilloscopes, the PHAD Pressure Transducer, etc.) and OEM (originial equipment manufacturer)  factory service information to efficiently pinpoint and resolve the “customer complaint” with no guesswork.

My passion for tinkering with all things on wheels goes back to childhood when my dad taught me to ride a bicycle when I was three. This passion progressed naturally from bicycles to motorcycles and finally cars. In 1992, when I was six, my family moved from Novosibirsk, Russia, to Ithaca, New York. My dad, who has always fueled my curiosity for how mechanical and electrical things worked, was invited to work at CLASSE, the Cornell Laboratory for Accelerator-Based Sciences and Education.

After graduating from Ithaca High School in 2004, it made sense to attend Cornell University and complete a Bachelor's Degree in Engineering Physics (with a minor in Mechanical Engineering). AEP was a natural choice, since I wanted to understand the theory behind what makes things tick, and then apply the theory to actually fix broken stuff, and maybe even improve on the design!

During the four years at Cornell, my limited free time was spent racing bicycles with the Cornell Cycling Club, as well as fixing up and riding vintage Japanese motorcycles with my friend, neighbor and classmate, Brandon. By senior year, my younger brother and two more friends had also obtained old bikes that Brandon and I worked on to get road-worthy, just in time for a “little” post-graduation road-trip adventure—we rode from Ithaca to San Francisco and back again! Fortunately, 40 days, 8,500 miles and several roadside repairs later, all five motorcycles and riders made it back to Ithaca in one piece. This once-in-a-lifetime experience made us friends forever, and further fueled my passion for problem solving, troubleshooting and repair. I still enjoy riding motorcycles and bicycles in the mountain forests of central Pennsylvania.

After graduating from Cornell University in 2008, I had no specific career path in mind, but I figured that a solid math and physics background was sure to be useful in any future endeavor. I enrolled in the Materials Science Ph.D. program at Pennsylvania State University in fiber optics research and development. My hobby at the time was cycling and helping friends with their automotive problems. I started working part-time at a friend’s automotive shop in State College, Pennsylvania. My Ph.D. advisor saw that I could not resist following my true passion and let me go from Penn State. Yes, I got fired from my first job!

It took a few years to figure out how I could use my AEP core knowledge and apply it to car repair. On YouTube I found a few channels that showcased scientific automotive diagnostics. “Wait,” I thought. “You can use an oscilloscope and the scientific method to 100% accurately diagnose car problems?!” I was hooked!

Cover image from YouTube video that says, "8 hours travel... 5-minute diag??  2005 GMC 2500HD
Temnykh's YouTube channel chronicles the diagnostic challenges he has solved

In 2016 I officially opened my own business, Pine Hollow Auto Diagnostics (PHAD), specializing in accurate, guaranteed diagnostics of automotive problems, mostly electrical in nature. I had a huge advantage in the field thanks to two AEP professors who taught my favorite Cornell courses: Professor Chris Xu (Electricity & Magnetism) and Professor Earl Kirkland (AEP 363 Circuits Lab). To share these fascinating diagnostic case studies, I started recording the process and posting videos on the growing PHAD YouTube automotive channel, @PineHollowAutoDiagnostics.

By 2018 the business income was still a bit lacking—and I had to help my wife Amanda pay the mortgage—so I got a second job in town at KCF Technologies Inc., a local company focused on “solving the world’s machine health problems.” There, I was working on remote vibration analysis (predictive failure) for automotive giants like GM, Toyota, Ford, and Denso. For this job, AEP Professor Bruce Kusse’s “Mathematical Physics” concepts came in extremely helpful: Fourier transforms are the core of analyzing vibration spectra!

By late 2019, the management at KCF did not want to hear the concerns of the vibration analysts for improving their in-house software, and I was fired again, despite being the most experienced vibration analyst in the company! This turned out to be an advantage, since now I could focus on ramping up Pine Hollow Auto Diagnostics. Apparently, I like being my own boss!

In the last three years, PHAD has grown by leaps and bounds. In part thanks to YouTube, customers are now towing their vehicles many hours away from their homes and across state lines to get a guaranteed diagnosis. My work has been extremely rewarding, and I plan to keep growing PHAD. Eventually, I want to develop an online “Art of Automotive Diagnostics” course for fellow technicians and do-it-yourselfers.

Q: Any thoughts about your degree, or stories you’d like to share?

A: Cornell AEP provided the most solid foundation in physics and math that I could have ever hoped for. I deal with issues daily that involve electricity and magnetism, circuit design, heat transfer, and mechanical principles, and AEP prepared me for that. Engineering physics was a challenging major and left very little free time to devote to hobbies or extracurricular activities, but it was worth all the effort. I found that doing problem sets with smarter peers was the only way to get through them. Plus, all the faculty were outstanding, and I can’t thank my professors enough. One thing that I wish I had known while I was in college was that after graduating, you don’t have to stay in academia or work for a company. If I had known that while I was at Cornell, I probably would have taken a course on starting a small business!

Q: Do you have any advice for current students?

A: Three pieces of advice:  One, follow your passion and take notes. Knowledge is power! You never know which concepts learned in school will directly help you out in your career. Two, look forward to hard challenges as learning opportunities, and get a mentor if possible. I would not be where I am today without a lot of help from friends and mentors. And three, remember that life is short! Whatever you do—whether it’s running your own business or doing something else you love—you will find that it will be both extremely rewarding and time-consuming. So don’t forget to spend time with your loved ones and take care of your health.

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