Industry experience: ChemE in ‘the real world’

CBEE junior Madeleine Adams spent the summer after her second year working at the corporate headquarters of W.R. Grace in Columbia, Maryland.

“Solving big problems, installing new systems, and developing new ideas are the reasons I chose to study chemical engineering,” says Madeleine Adams.

The CBEE junior spent last summer doing all of those things, working at the corporate headquarters of W.R. Grace in Columbia, Maryland. While there, she helped to implement a new in-house method to determine the crystalline content in homo-polypropylene. This thermoplastic resin is a key component in a wide variety of products —including Tupperware, laboratory equipment, furniture, and packaging materials.

The method Madeleine worked on replicates the method used by Grace’s Chinese clients. Madeleine worked with a team investigating the correlation between the Chinese method, also the international standard method, and the method provided by Grace, which is actually more widely used in industry.

First, Madeleine translated the procedure from Chinese to English. Then she set up the apparatus and got it running, developing a new standard operating procedure along the way. She conducted a job safety analysis, writing up emergency shutdown procedures and analyzing safety concerns with the procedure. She also gained experience working with other analytical techniques to characterize polymers, including carbon NMR and GPC.

“This summer internship has been amazing, because I had the opportunity to see how research works in an industrial setting,” Madeleine said. “I was also able to directly apply what I had just learned in my polymer science and engineering elective during spring term.”

Madeleine says she especially appreciated the collaborative nature of the work she did at Grace, noting the willingness of the team to answer any questions she might have and never passing up an opportunity to teach her something new.

“This internship has really shown me how fun it is to learn something in class and then see it in action in the real world,” she said.