Gavin Smith & Beyond “Button Pushing”

Let us introduce you to the one-and-only….

Gavin Smith, Liquid Chromatography Laboratory Technician

How long have you worked at PSI and what did you do before?

I started at Polymer Solutions (PSI) in late January 2014 as an intern while attending Radford University. I held multiple positions in Residential Life at Radford in addition to being a tour guide in the greenhouse. I also gained experience in manufacturing at Paramont Manufacturing, LLC, working in the shipping, inspection, assembly, and part prep departments. My full time position at PSI began June 2014, following my graduation from Radford University.

What is a typical day at work like for you?

As soon as I arrive in the morning I check to see if there have been any project updates. Then, as projects in Liquid Chromatography often take multiple days, I usually head to the lab to check the status of the instruments I’m working with and to review any data collected the night before. Next, I see my lab manager to deliver an update on the data we’ve collected and discuss the projects waiting in the wings.

The day begins to gain momentum as I begin preparing samples and instruments for the next task we’ll be running. Amidst this activity, I find windows of time to analyze the previous night’s data and construct reports describing our observations.

As the ebb and flow of projects occurs, I may find myself in the mid afternoon with a lot still to be done just to meet necessity, or that I have time to help another lab with their tasks. This part of my day is highly variable from day to day, and I love it.

Do you think anything you do at Polymer Solutions would surprise people?

It may be surprising how dynamic our work is at PSI. It may sound tedious and whirring when described in words, but it is always another challenge, another puzzle, another mystery to be solved. The work is constantly changing. We find ourselves developing new methods, refining the tried and true, and making connections with each other and  the larger world around us as we find answers to the problems we’re given.

What’s a common misconception about the work you do?

I think the common conception of a “Lab Technician” is a button-pusher. The leadership at PSI constantly challenges us to grow and expand our knowledge and abilities beyond the basics of “how to push the right button” to an intricate knowledge of how the instruments work, diagnosing issues they may encounter, developing analytical methods, understanding why we do what we do, and aiding in defining what we will do tomorrow. We get to take pride in the work we accomplish, knowing that we actually produced something.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done at PSI?

There isn’t one specific project or task that jumps out at me immediately but plenty of interesting thing seem to always be happening. Many of the folks at my church seemed thoroughly confused when I explained all of the activities that took place on our annual celebration of international talk like a pirate day.

Talk Like a Pirate Day

If someone made a TV show or film about PSI, who would you want to play you, and why?

Well, of course a film about PSI would have comedy, but I’m also pretty sure there would be some action and adventure. It would also have to be pretty realistic to satisfy the other scientists out there, so we may need to get George Lucas to work on the set. As for my part, I think Hugh Jackman would suffice. I’ve been told there’s a resemblance, and I think he could handle the lab coat…

Thinking back on great scientists in history… who is your favorite and why?

I have a lot of respect for Louis Pasteur and his work in microbiology. Pasteur’s outlook was one of discovery and awe for what our eyes cannot see. He was skilled at deduction and quite clever.  He also disproved spontaneous generation–the idea that living organisms could form from inanimate objects (fleas from dust, for example). Finally, his courage to fight fire with fire in saving a child from rabies was admirable and bold. Pasteur represents the epitome of a scientist, if you ask me.

What do you do for fun outside of work? Does it relate to what you do during the week?

I spend a lot of time outdoors, hiking, camping, fishing, and gardening. I don’t intend to, but I often end up analyzing the world around me, trying to identify cause and effect, seeing the outcomes of this beautiful creation we live in—I guess I just can’t quite turn off my inner scientist.