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NoceInvo.jpgTony Noce is constantly on the go. A seasoned engineering consultant with more than 27 years of experience, Noce loves traveling from place to place to work on different problems.

 

Looking back at his career path, however, Noce says that he “did everything the wrong way.”

 

Noce didn’t figure out his dream career path right away. But his openness to new opportunities has led him to a field that he is passionate about, and his love for solving varied problems is helping him thrive in the highly competitive consulting engineering business.

 

Reflecting upon the outcomes of the choices he has made throughout his career, Noce, a newly minted ACS Fellow, admits, “I am amazed by it on a regular basis…”

 

The wandering years

Noce excelled at science and math in high school. Encouraged by teachers and family members to go into engineering, he planned to become a chemical engineer. However, after a year at Clarkson College of Technology (now Clarkson University), an engineering school near the U.S. and Canada border in Potsdam, New York, he decided that engineering was not for him.

 

“I hated it,” he confesses.

 

He transferred to the State University of New York at Potsdam, changed his major, and graduated with dual degrees in biology and secondary education with a concentration in chemistry. Both of his parents were school teachers, he respected their work, and he thought he’d like to become a teacher as well.

 

But the universe had a different plan for Noce. After graduating from college in 1988, he was hired by YWC Laboratories in Connecticut, an environmental lab, and became an analytical chemist rather than a teacher.

 

“Yeah, I don’t really understand how it happened either,” Noce jokes.

 

Embracing serendipity

Much to Noce’s surprise, he found out that he liked the rapidly growing field of environmental chemistry.

 

“It really felt like I was helping to make a difference,” Noce recalls. “From cleaning up the sins of the past to preventing such issues from occurring in the future by finding a better way to do things, the job is both challenging and exciting.”

 

More than 27 years later, today Noce still feels the same way about the field that he accidentally fell in love with.

 

“In many ways I like it even more today because I get to see the bigger picture now,” says Noce.

 

Drawn to the consulting business

YWC Laboratories was owned by an environmental engineering firm. It didn’t take long for Noce to fall in love with the consulting business. Traveling from place to place, working with people from different backgrounds, and helping companies and organizations to solve a variety of problems, the consulting business appeared to suit his peripatetic nature. Noce decided to enter into the consulting engineering business.

 

However, it wasn’t as easy for Noce to enter into the field at this time. He was repeatedly told that he lacked the needed experience to be a consultant. 

 

A well-thought-out plan

To get his foot in the door, Noce’s plan was to join an established engineering firm as a mid-level consultant. The springboard was Ward Scientific, Ltd., a company that developed software to help environmental labs and consulting engineering firms generate EPA compliant reports. While at ENSECO’s ERCO Laboratory (Noce’s second job after graduating from college), Noce tested software for Ward Scientific. In 1991, Noce successfully convinced the software company to create a software engineer position for him.

 

How did he do it?

 

“I explained that they needed a chemist who could, on the one hand, understand the EPA requirements and sketch out the logic for a programmer, while on the other hand could relate to the end users and provide training and sales support. And they asked if I happened to know someone who might fit the bill,” Noce recalls.

 

Within days, the software company offered Noce a job, and he accepted. After working at Ward Scientific for about a year and a half, Noce landed his first consulting position in 1993. That’s a short 5 years after graduating from college, 9 years after walking away from a chemical engineering school.

 

The key to his success of getting into the consulting business?

 

“Perseverance, confidence, and a dash of audacity,” Noce reveals. 

 

For the love of variety

In the following 2 decades, Noce worked on hundreds of environment health and safety-related projects for dozens of industrial clients of various sizes. As his experience increased, so did his responsibility.

 

After working for several consulting firms, Noce joined Haley & Aldrich in 2015 to help the firm build its Operations Risk & Compliance Practice. As a principal consultant and senior client leader, he leads a team of scientists and engineers to provide global EHS compliance, due diligence, product stewardship, as well as sustainability management services to a variety of clients.

 

In Noce’s world, there is no such thing as a typical workday as each client has different needs, and the only consistent part is perhaps traveling from place to place.

 

“I spend a lot time traveling to various client locations,” says Noce. So far this year, he spent only 20 days of the first 4 months at home. The rest of the days? Traveling around the country to help his clients reduce operational costs, maintain business continuity, and protect their brand name. 

 

Some people might get tired of this type of work, traveling and being away from home much, but Noce loves it.

 

When asked what he likes the most about his job and why, Noce’s answers are simple: “the variety” and “solving problems.”

 

Insights and advice

Reflecting upon his experience with the consulting business, Noce says, “its not for everyone, but if its for you, its a fantastic career.” And he “simply cant imagine going to the same office (or lab or plant or whatever) every day and wrestling with the same problems.”

 

For those who have trouble deciding what they want to do with their career or degree, Noce offers the following.

 

  • Try as many different things as you can. Volunteer. Get co-ops. One of the best ways to learn is by actually doing. Even mistakes can be a wonderful teacher if you understand what happened and do not repeat the same mistakes.

 

  • Network. Talk to as many different people as you can. Find out what they do. What do they like about their job? What do they hate about it? Stay in touch with people, particularly people you hit it off with. Relationships are key no matter what direction you choose to go.

 

  • Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that any decision you make now is final. You can always get off of this path and onto another – or even blaze your own trail.

 

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Yanni Wang is a principal scientific writer and the owner of International Biomedical Communications, a company dedicated to translating research data into clear messages. Yanni has a PhD in chemistry and writes about biomedical research-related topics for professional audiences and the general public.

 

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The world is changing, with positive views of chemistry and science appearing far more commonly on TV these days.  That is a great thing, though probably inadequate to swing public opinion pro-chemistry.  I have an eye for chemistry, as some of the stories I will relay prove.  A few weeks ago, I noticed chemistry where I wasn't expecting it: Saturday Night Live.  No chemistry was in the program, but at the commercial breaks, there were depictions of chemical models and mention of chemical terms in one of the ads.

 

Caring about accurate depictions of chemistry, as I do, is not always a good thing.  I get worked up when I see chemistry abused in the media. I hate it when “chemical” is used as a derogatory term and even more when throwaway adjectives like “toxic” are used in front of “chemical.”

 

I routinely cry foul when my employer’s depictions of chemistry stray too far from what is technically accurate as part of an attempt to make the chemistry accessible to non-chemists or the general public. No good deed goes unpunished, as they say, and I have been asked multiple times to fact-check visuals prior to their use in company advertising. These demands reached a bit of a summit when I was asked to help plan the video advertisements that ultimately ran in 2014.

 

 

I worked with the design team as the scientific advisor.  The director wanted chemistry in the videos.  Real researchers were brought in and I helped direct them to do “chemistry” things.  It became pretty clear that people in white coats look like medical doctors to most viewers so we made molecular models – accurate ones that depicted chemically important molecules the company sells – for our lab coat wearing scientists to hold.  It worked, making them look less like medical doctors and more like chemists.  We had chemists drawing chemical reactions, engineers solving kinetic expressions, things that were actually relevant to the day-to-day lives of real industrial researchers.

 

 

There was a print ad pulled from some of the video shot at the time with a guy in a red baseball hat writing on a chalkboard.  The chemical equations he was writing were actually industrially relevant.  I wrote out the mechanism for long-chain branching in the production of linear low-density polyethylene.  The actor dutifully rendered it on the blackboard. I argued that I couldn’t recall seeing a working chemist in a baseball cap.  It was an argument I didn’t win.

 

Several months ago, I was consulted, not about advertising, but about decoration for the walls of a new building.  I was shown artists' renderings of chemistry that didn't look like chemistry to me.  There were balls and there were sticks (really more so wires) connecting them. They were connected to form rings and cages of varying sizes.  Some of the wires were long, some short.  I must have wrinkled my face pretty severely as I was immediately asked, “What’s wrong?” I tried to explain how, while the shapes were appealing, they didn't really look like molecules.  I left the meeting promising to pull together some pictures of real molecules, ones with significance to the company.

 

I borrowed some 3D images from others and drew some myself. It had been stressed that the images would be repeated across an expanse.  I played with images of polyethylene, some perfectly straight, others curling and spiraling with branching.  I stylized some, elongating and tapering bonds.  I made some transparent and played with colors.  I moved from a photo-realistic rendering to a more artistic rendering, attempting to give a calligraphy feel to the image. When I met with the graphics designer, I explained that I kept the atoms and their bonds the same size as I played.  I also kept the number of bonds and the geometry fixed.

 

There are not many places where chemistry is used as art, the National Academies building and the American Chemical Society being two I know of.  In both these cases, chemistry rules were followed and the art clearly incorporated real molecules.  I hope I am able to do as well.

 

The Saturday Night Live broadcast showed the same chemistry-containing ad twice. It was an ad that I am pretty certain was not checked by a chemist.  The depiction of chemistry, while effective at catching my attention, predisposed as I am to noticing chemistry, will not lead to a purchase.  I went to the web looking for the ad as I prepared to write this.

 

 

The ad caught my eye because 15 seconds in, there were purple molecules tumbling across the screen, specifically methane molecules tumbling toward the camera on a lavender background. The voice-over talks about pH, a chemical concept. 

 

I am 100% certain that the trademarked “lactoprebiotic™” mentioned in the ad is not methane and that each container of Vagisil® pH Balance Wash does not actually contain methane.*  The chemical and physical properties of methane just don’t allow it. No plastic bottle on a store shelf is full of methane.  Capturing and storing methane is challenging due to its gaseous state under normal conditions for temperature and pressure.  I couldn’t find an explanation of the trademarked term in the scientific literature.  It must be a term of art, not one of science.

 

I am left both heartened and disheartened: disheartened because of the inaccuracy, but heartened because molecular models, the chemically accurate term pH, and a chemical sounding trademark were being used to convey goodness.  A small victory for chemistry in the mainstream.

 

*lactoprebiotic is a trademark of  Combe Incorporated, filing date 2011-07-25 Registration Number 4388630

 

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Mark Jones is Executive External Strategy and Communications Fellow at Dow Chemical since September 2011. He spent most of his career developing catalytic processes after joining Dow in 1990. He received his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry at the University of Colorado-Boulder doing research unlikely to lead to an industrial career and totally unrelated to his current responsibilities.

holmgren.jpgWhen NASA was landing the first spacecraft on the moon in 1969, the whole world was watching. In Colombia, then 9-year-old Jennifer Holmgren was fascinated by the mission. She devoured every piece of news about the space program she could get her hands on.  She wanted to become an astronaut, as many children did at the time.

 

Years later, Holmgren isnt an astronaut, but her love for science and technology has endured, and her passion for turning innovative ideas into practical solutions has guided her on a journal of making impacts, just like NASAs space program did.

 

Learning to take risks

The same year NASA successfully landed the first astronauts on the moon, Holmgren moved to the U.S. with her family, when her father, a skilled aircraft mechanic had an opportunity to work in California.

 

As the parents expected, moving to the U.S. provided better education opportunities to Holmgren and her two younger brothers, but the impact of the move on Holmgren was beyond better schools.

 

I learnt to take risks by watching my parents move us from Colombia to the US, says Holmgren. I suspect my biggest motivator for taking risks is knowing that what we are trying to do must be done and that there is no downside to failure; the only downside is not trying.

 

Following love and passion

In high school, the already science-loving Holmgren was fascinated by chemistry, partly because of her chemistry teacher, who passionately passed along his enthusiasm for the topic to his students.

 

Upon graduating from high school, Holmgren decided to study chemistry at Harvey Mudd College in California, a liberal arts college known for its excellent science, engineering, and mathematics programs. The college years turned out to be a significant period in Holmgrens life. During those years Holmgrens love for chemistry intensified, and she met the love of her life, Donald Holmgren, a person whom Holmgren says has helped define who she is today.

 

The day before graduating from college, Holmgren married Donald. Soon they moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to pursue PhD programs together: chemistry for her and physics for him.

 

Commercializing technologies

After earning her PhD in chemistry and completing a short postdoctoral training, Holmgren in 1987 joined UOP (now Honeywell UOP), a multinational petroleum technology company headquartered in Illinois.

 

Her decision of pursuing a career in industry instead of academia was simple: she wanted to make a difference by commercializing technologies.

 

I believe in what Mr. Thomas Edison has said, Vision without execution is a hallucination, says Holmgren.

 

Developing renewable energy

At UOP, Holmgren successfully worked on a number of diversified projects in UOPs core business areas, and she was a member of the R&D Reengineering Design Team, which transformed UOPs technology commercialization.

 

Holmgren enjoyed all the projects she worked on. But she developed a special interest in renewable energy.

 

I realized over a decade ago that the world needed to diversify its feedstock pool. This led me to thinking about renewables and especially how we could leverage existing refining resources and infrastructure to convert biological feedstocks to drop in fuels (gasoline, diesel, jet), says Holmgren. 

 

Holmgren and her team initially focused on gasoline and diesel. But after realizing that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was interested in finding an economic path to drop-in aviation fuels, they saw a unique business opportunity in the aviation industry.

 

Many people, including some colleagues, didnt think the project on developing renewable aviation fuel would work. But Holmgren marched on. Under her leadership, her team became a key driver in the companys aviation biofuel business. And UOP produced nearly all of the initial fuels used by commercial airlines for testing and certification of alternative aviation fuel for passenger flights, says Holmgren.

 

Honing business acumen

While working on the renewable energy project at UOP, Holmgren felt the need to hone her business acumen.

 

I realized early in my career that the key to success is not just having a novel technology with a lot of potential, but also having the business acumen to back it up, shares Holmgren.

 

Believing that a formal education in business was the most efficient way to hone the skills she needed, Holmgren decided to pursue an MBA.

 

After receiving her MBA from the University of Chicago, Holmgren was asked to lead both the business and technology sides of UOPs renewable fuels projects. With the newly acquired business acumen, Holmgren and her team successfully commercialized UOPs renewable portfolio.

 

With her outstanding performance, Holmgrens career at UOP flourished. In 2009, she was named Vice President and General Manager of the Renewable Energy and Chemicals business unit at UOP LLC. And she started to devote her full attention to renewable energy.

 

Recycling carbon

In 2010, Holmgren left UOP for a small startup company named LanzaTech, leaving the company she had happily worked for more than 20 years and the legacy she had built behind, a move that surprised many colleagues.

 

It all started with a phone call from a recruiter who was searching for a CEO for LanzaTech. LanzaTech was unknown to Holmgren at the time, but its core technology caught Holmgrens attention.

 

Founded in 2005 by Sean Simpson in New Zealand, LanzaTechs core technology centers around utilizing gas-fermenting microbes unique property to convert carbon-rich waste gases such as carbon monoxide into liquid chemical products such as ethanol through gas fermentation. The companys mission is to create green products that meet the triple bottom line social, environmental, and economic.

 

Even though the technology was sound and tested, transforming the technology into a successful business turned out to be challenging, especially in the early years. Simpson wanted to find a CEO who could help LanzaTechs commercialization.

 

And Holmgren didnt disappoint. Since joining LanzaTech, Holmgren has helped attract millions in investment, move LanzaTechs headquarters from New Zealand to Illinois, USA, and expand the business to China, India, and Europe.

 

Challenges and rewards

When asked about the biggest challenges about her job, Holmgren says: The most difficult part of new technology commercialization is the need to balance commercialization with continued improvements in technology.

 

In the early days of a technology, improvements happen so quickly that it is difficult to freeze a design and take that to commercial. This is a very important step as without a commercial unit operating you cant reduce the cost of capital or production as you cannot begin down the path to value engineer and intensify the technology. These are critical in getting to an economic nth unit design, yet it is hard to know when to draw the line and begin to build the first commercial unit, she explains.

 

Holmgren believes that, the greatest challenges in technology development and deployment can always be overcome by working with a multidisciplinary team.

 

Over the years, Holmgren has received numerous prestigious awards and recognitions, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) in 2010, and the BIO Rosalind Franklin Award for Leadership in Industrial Biotechnology in 2015. Biofuel Digest, a biofuels industry daily newsletter based in Miami, Florida, named Holmgren one of the top 5 most influential leaders in the Biofuels Industry for 2013-2014, and the number 2 most influential leader in the Bioeconomy for 2015-2016.

 

But to Holmgren, the greatest joy comes from knowing that the benefits of a successful renewable energy business will go far beyond the profits reported.

 


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Yanni Wang is a principal scientific writer and the owner of International Biomedical Communications, a company dedicated to translating research data into clear messages. Yanni has a PhD in chemistry and writes about biomedical research-related topics for professional audiences and the general public.

ACS Industry

Demographics Destiny

Posted by ACS Industry Jun 1, 2016

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Retirement trends are destined to have a major impact on the chemical industry. Ten thousand  Americans have been retiring every day since 2011, and the same trend will continue until 2030, according to Pew Institute research. As a result, household spending patterns are undergoing major change, given that people’s spending starts to drop quite sharply once they reach the age of 55.  Not surprisingly,  the U.S. economy has slowed, as 70% of GDP comes from consumer spending.

 

This paradigm shift has enormous implications for chemical companies, given that most of their production—think autos, housing, electronics, pharmaceuticals as examples—is driven by consumer demand.  It also means that affordability, and a focus on essentials, are becoming the critical drivers for future success.  New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics highlights the extent of the changes that have already taken place since 2000. The chart above shows:

  • Back in 2000, there were 65 million households in the Wealth Creator (age 25 – 54) cohort, each spending a median $60,000 (in 2015).  And there were just 36 million in the lower-spending New Olders (age 55+) cohort, each spending $43,000
  • Last year, the number of Wealth Creators was virtually unchanged at 66 million, and their spending was plateaued at $61,000/year.  But the number of New Olders had jumped almost 50%  to 53 million, and their median spend had risen only 16% to $50,000/year

This spending increase by the New Olders (age 55+) is likely only a temporary phenomenon, however, as the second chart shows. The reason is that the decline in spending accelerates with age - nearly halving in the 75+ age group versus the peak-spending 45 – 54 age group.  This matters, as the boom in the number of older households is being driven by the ageing of the Baby Boomers, who were born between 1946 and 1964, and includes people who are between 52 and 70 years old in 2016.

The oldest Boomers only became  New Olders (age 55+) in 2001, and so, as a group, the Boomers are still concentrated in the 55 – 64 age group.  But this will start to change in 2021 as they begin to join the lowest-spending 75+ group. New Olders spending will likely then start to plateau and then decline, as latest Social Security Administration forecasts suggest the average 65-year old now has 20 years of life expectancy.

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The chart also provides some tantalising glimpses of how spending changes in various categories with age:

  • Housing is the largest single spend.  It peaks in the 35 – 44 age group, and is over a third lower in the 75+ age group
  • Food, drink & tobacco, and entertainment, also peak then.  Spend on these items then halves by age 75+
  • Spend on transport peaks in the 45 – 54 age group, and more than halves by age 75+
  • Spend on clothing and education peak also peak then, and then falls around three-quarters by age 75+; pension spending peaks then too, and drops to zero from 75+
  • Healthcare spend peaks later, in the 65 – 74 age group, and Others (miscellaneous and cash spending) peaks at 75+

These trends have major implications for chemical companies and those working for them.  New business models are urgently required, as I shall discuss next month, if revenues and profits are to continue to increase.  Demographics are destiny, after all, and it takes 25 years for a new baby to join the Wealth Creator (age 25-54) generation.  A decline in spending patterns is therefore inevitable over the next couple of decades, even if American women were to suddenly decide tomorrow to spark a new baby boom.

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Paul Hodges is chairman of International eChem (www.iec.eu.com), trusted advisers to the chemical industry and its investment community. He is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Industrial Council on chemicals, advanced materials and biotechnology, and presents the ACS ‘Chemistry & the Economy’ webinars.