Swarthmore chemistry majors embarked on a field trip to Ashland Water Technologies and Special Ingredients laboratories in Wilmington, Delaware. Ashland, a former oil company turned chemical, is involved in performance materials and consumer products in addition to its water treatment research and specialty chemical manufacturing. Nine students from the Inorganic Chemistry class as well as Elissa Wong '12, Laboratory Instructor Donna Halley and Kevin Welch toured Ashland's facilities, learning about industrial chemistry and how our laboratory experience applies to current techniques for producing paints or detecting microbes.
After a brief safety lecture, students were led by senior staff scientist Michael Todd through Ashland's paper manufacturing and water cooling research areas. "Once you know what these water cooling tanks look like, you start seeing them everywhere," Water Applications Engineer Jamie Doran told students, referring to the large structures that are often rest on the roofs of large buildings. The engineer explained how she works to find a salt balance that is noncorrosive but still strong enough to dissolve any buildup on the tank walls. Students saw some of this buildup in Ashland's analytical labs where technicians determined buildup compositions using FT-IR, GC-MS, NMR and ICP techniques that all of the Swarthmore students had used in laboratory courses at the college.
Continuing on to Ashland's special products division, students were impressed by Ashland's commitment to producing environmentally friendly paint formulas for their clientele. Ashland researchers later discussed their work with slow-release cellulose tablets and other pharmaceutical research. The trip was concluded with a panel including Jamie Doran, Michael Todd and Senior Staff Scientist Joseph Mahoney discussing graduate school, everyday work life and job prospects in the industry. Loading back into the vans that afternoon, students expressed their appreciation of what they had seen and learned at Ashland that afternoon. "Hearing about chemistry graduate school from people who went to work at Ashland provided some really great perspective," Vienna Tran '13 said. "I'm really glad we had the chance to talk to them."