STEM Career Tours

Inspiring the pursuit of science, technology, engineering and math literacy, skills, and careers.

Category: Chemistry

Huge Magnets Map Tiny Proteins

AP Biology students from Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School visited the Department of Structural Biology at the University of Pittsburgh. Students were led on a tour by Dr. Rieko Ishima, an associate professor and a principal investigator in the department. Dr. Ishima oversees a team of research associates and fellows who are currently working to determine protein structure and dynamics using nuclear magnetic resonance.

Protein images are beyond tiny! The nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy of proteins does not ‘take a picture.’ Rather, it relies on complex mathematical calculations to build a three dimensional image of the protein.

During Dr. Ishima’s tour, students were shown various equipment used in cryo-electron microscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance, and x-ray crystallography. Students were fascinated not only by the incredible detail achieved in the digital images produced by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), but also by the sheer size of the equipment required to generate those results.

Though NMR examines molecular structure and dynamics at the atomic level, the spectrometers required to view particles that small are extremely large. Pitt has seven spectrometers in this department, and they are housed in 10,000 square foot laboratory. The students were amazed to learn that when the spectrometers were delivered, the first floor windows were removed to allow the equipment to be lowered into the NMR lab! We are standing in front of a two magnets that had to be lowered by crane through an open window.

Students were also able to tour the cryo-electron microscope facility, where three electron microscopes allow researchers to engage in structural analysis of proteins, viruses, cellular organelles and bacterial cells. Finally, Dr. Ishima and her team led students to the x-ray crystallography lab. Here, researchers are able to grow, store, and monitor crystals. Once crystals are ready for analysis, x-ray beams and image plate detectors are used to collect data about protein structures at the atomic level. While scientists in the lab often use tiny tools to manually transfer crystals for analysis, the lab also is equipped with a robot that can mount and collect data from up to 80 crystals for rapid analysis.

The field is extraordinary.

The Hydrocarbons of Neville Chemical

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Neville Chemical 6The second day of the 2016 CWNC STEM Careers Tour began with a visit to Neville Chemical located on Neville Island, an island on the Ohio River about 10 miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Neville Chemical began in 1925 producing coumarone-indene resin from coke co-products that were being generated from the steel manufactures. During World War II, the company produced many specialty chemicals for the government. In the late 1940’s, Neville saw the development of petroleum cracking units as a new and innovative opportunity. Today Neville Chemical Company is one of the largest produces of hydrocarbon resins and solutions. Neville products are used for the manufacturing of printing inks, adhesives, rubber goods, plastics, paints, coatings, and concrete cure.

 

 

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Neville Chemical 5After being outfitted with hard hats and safety glasses, we began our tour of Neville Chemical by walking through the outdoor facility. Our guide was Paul Sauers, manager of raw materials and special products at Neville with over 33 years of experience! He guided us first through the warehouse where we saw hundreds of pallets full of sacks of finished product. Each sack of finished product is labeled with a unique code that enables all of the raw materials that were used to make the product can be traced in case any quality issues occur. We were then led through the outdoor operation facility that consisted of tanks for storing the raw materials, reactors for the polymerization, heat exchangers, distillation columns for separating materials and pipes connecting everything. It was amazing! After learning about the equipment and process for making hydrocarbon resins, we toured the Quality Control Lab that ensures that the finished product meets its desired specifications. Lastly, we visited the Research and Development Lab equipped that focuses on developing new products to meet the needs of the customer and enhancing the current products to be more efficient, safer, and more cost-efficient.

The tour of Neville Chemical provided us with a great view of a chemical plant that has a 90 year history in the industry! It was fascinating to see the large-scale equipment and how it all fits together to make hydrocarbon resins.

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Neville Chemical 11Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Neville Chemical 12Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Neville Chemical 10

Tour of Nova Chemicals – Monaca

Grow a Generation 2016 STEM Careers Tour Nova Chemicals 1On Wednesday, June 15th, the 2016 CWNC STEM Careers Tour visited Nova Chemicals’ Beaver Valley plant. Nova Chemicals is a leading producers of plastics and chemicals. They develop and manufacture materials for customers worldwide who produce consumer, packaging and industrial products. The Beaver Valley site manufactures expandable polystyrene (EPS) resins and advanced foam resins. It is located in Monaca, Pennsylvania, about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. The site was build by the U.S. government in 1942 as part of the United State Synthetic Rubber Program during World War II and was used for producing synthetic rubber raw materials. In 1955 the site began producing expandable polystyrene resins and in 1983 advanced foam resins. It has transferred through various owners through the years and today, the Nova Chemicals plant is part of the International Petroleum Investment Company of Abu Dhabi. There are  about 250 people employed in the manufacturing, technology and commercial departments at Nova Chemicals’ Beaver Valley site.

In an effort to see all of the Nova Chemicals plant, we toured the facility on our bus with our host, Dan Depenhart, the Site Operations Leader. After watching a brief safety video, we drove around the plant as Dan explained the sites. Scattered throughout the plan were large storage tanks, cylindrical and spherical, that are used to store the plant’s primary raw materials of styrene and pentane.

The spherical tanks are used to hold the high pressure liquids because they can evenly distribute the stresses on the vessel along the sphere’s surface. We learned that all of the water used for production at the plant is sourced from the Ohio River, which borders the site. We saw the water treatment facility within the plant, and learned that any water returned to the Ohio River is cleaner than when it was removed. To make the resins, we learned that the styrene is converted into polystyrene beads through polymerization. The beads are melted, the pentane blowing agent is added, and the bead are extruded. Lastly they are heated, expanded, and allowed to cure. The facility has the capacity to produce 250 million pounds of plastic resins per year! The polystyrene and advanced foam resin products are packaged in 1 ton supersacks and 1000 pound cartons to be transported to customers by truck, rail and sea bulk containers. Customers of the expandable polystyrene resins use the product for foam packaging and insulation, where higher grades are used in the manufacturing of cups and food service containers. The advanced foam resins are used for manufacturing high-end electronics packaging because it can be molded in complex forms; is resistant to punctures, tears, and breaking; and it is lightweight which reduces freight and shipping costs.

During our tour we also learned that Nova Chemicals is committed to the principles of the Responsible Care program. Responsible Care is a global, voluntary initiative developed by the chemical industry to improve health, safety and environmental performance. As a Responsible Care company, Nova Chemicals works to safely manage their chemical products throughout their life cycle from the planning of new products, through their manufacture, distribution, use, and disposal.

At the end of our tour, Dan provided some advice for the students….study hard, and never stop learning. Focus on teamwork and have integrity.

Valspar, Pitt’s Computational Biology, and Cybergenetics

Monday, July 6, 2015 found our CWNC Summer STEM Tour at Valspar, the University of Pittsburgh Computational Biology Department, and the Cybergenetics.

Valspar part of the 2015 STEM Careers Tour

ValsparValspar

part of the

2015
STEM Careers Tour

Valspar is a global leader in consumer paints and industrial coatings. For more than 200 years, their leadership in technology and innovation has enhanced the beauty of homes, improved the durability of industrial products and protected what we eat and drink.

While Valspar hires and needs people from a variety of corporate, leadership, and human resource backgrounds, our tour will focus on the research, development, and product testing that chemists and applications engineers are focused on. For example, one advertised opening at the firm today is a Polymer Application Technology Manager (imagine getting to play with all the new plastics that are being synthesized and testing how they interact with people and the environment!). To apply for this position, a student would need a Master’s Degree (or PhD) in chemistry, polymer/materials science or related technical discipline. In particular, Valspar needs someone with experience with polymer synthesis or thermoset table chemistries.

This is a great opportunity for students to see the relevance of the basic chemistry concepts they are struggling with in high school and begin to imagine what fun can be had once they are mastered.

 

COME DISCOVER MORE!
STEM CAREERS TOUR
GRADES 9-12     *     JULY 6-10      *     8:30 – 4:30

Travel by bus to 10 companies and 5 college campuses
in and around Pittsburgh
for tours, discussions, activities, and explorations.

 

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