Internships take classroom learning to a new place. For Jonathan Syrigos, a junior chemistry major from Perrysburg, Ohio, this place also required a passport and a work visa.
Entranced by science since childhood – he credits “Beakman’s World” for inspiring his career choice – Syrios applied for a three-month chemistry internship with his father’s employer, AB Mauri. His father is a plant manager in Memphis, Tenn., but the international firm, a division of Associated British Foods, placed Syrigos in its Sydney, Australia, plant to monitor the making of yeast.
Yes, yeast, as in Fleischmann’s. The firm is one of the world’s largest producers and distributors of yeast and bakery ingredients in the world.
But don’t think that Syrigos was busy in the kitchen. His responsibilities involved monitoring the amounts of ethanol, glucose and nitrogen in the plant’s products.
“I used the GC (gas chromatography) machine that told me how much ethanol was in stuff,” he explains. “I also did some glucose tests, which told me how much sugar. My main job was getting the LECO machine running. That measures nitrogen, and from that you could get protein content,” Syrigos said.
Between ordering parts and setting up the spectrographic machine, the LECO project took most of the summer. “I did get it running,” he adds with a smile, and tweaked the glucose test for greater accuracy.
While the technical work was challenging, Syrigos says, “The hardest part was figuring out the way things work in the corporate setting.”
He explains, “I learned to take responsibility for the things you’re given, that you can ask for help and how to act around people. That was the big thing I learned.”
And, of course, he learned how to apply his classroom chemistry skills to chromatography, spectrographic and glucose testing in the real world.
“Before this, I had no idea what an industry-setting chemistry job would be like.
It was cool.”
While chemists are valuable members of corporate teams, especially in the food industry, Syrigos discovered something about his personal likes.
“The fact is I don’t like biochemistry, which is what they were doing, as much as other types of chemistry,” he says. He sees his future in inorganic chemistry, with grad school, a doctorate and then research with “a big chemistry company affiliated with industry.”
Working toward that goal, he currently conducts inorganic research with Dr. Susan Bates, associate professor of chemistry. “We work in a glove box mixing titanium and other organic things to see if we can make some kind of super material.”
If the reactions can be controlled, he says, the result could be something that’s half metal and half ceramic. “The material would be really tough, but when it is hit hard, it bends instead of shattering. That could be used in bulletproof vests or building materials.”