Sarah Topper

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Supervisor, Scale-Up and Process Transfer at PPG Industries, Inc.

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Coffee shop drink of choice? Cafe mocha with lots of whipped cream!

Was there a particular person or event that influenced your career choice? When I was in high school, I wanted to be a professional musician. I knew there weren’t many job openings, pay was low, and competition fierce. My parents suggested I consider engineering because it’s a job with lots of opportunities and good pay, but I thought it sounded boring and I was afraid of all the math required. Then I took chemistry and loved it, so I thought about chemical engineering. I did a job shadow for a day with a chemical engineer. I told her how much I liked lab experiments, and she encouraged me to consider a career in chemistry, so here I am!

ocat4What are your favorite aspects of your job? I enjoy watching processes I developed get scaled up so that they make huge amounts of material. I like seeing people in public wearing our product and thinking, “Hey! That person is wearing MY work!” I live for the “eureeka!” moments when you figure out something that’s been bugging you for a long time.

What is the most interesting or unusual experience of your career? Because I work with dyes that are colorless indoors and colorful in sunlight, sometimes I get stains on my clothes that only show up when I’m outside. It’s funny to wear a shirt that looked fine when you got dressed, but has tiny purple spots on it when you leave the house.

Who are YOUR role models? My parents – they are both really hard workers who aren’t afraid to tackle anything
My coworkers – we have some super smart scientists who are so good at what they do
My daughters – they make me smile every day and remind me what life is all about

Read more about her career!  Chemist

Bio: Sarah is a chemist at PPG who earned her bachelor’s degree at Youngstown State University and her master’s degree at University of Pittsburgh. According to Sarah,

“A typical day at my job involves checking on the multiple chemical reactions we’ve got running in the labs. I answer any questions the technicians have and help them troubleshoot what is going on with the reactions. I work with the other chemists to decide how we’re going to run the next chemical reactions we’ve got planned, or come up with ideas to make them run better. I might help the plant out if they have a question about a process I developed that they are running. As data on the chemicals we’ve already made comes in, I check to make sure everything is okay and the material is good enough to send to our customers. If it isn’t, I work with the chemists to figure out how to fix it. Some days I spend a lot of time writing up instructions so that people have all the information they need to run the reactions. I keep an eye on our inventory to make sure we have all the chemicals we need, and all the products our customers need.”

She works mostly in a laboratory or in an office and interacts with chemical engineers, technicians, and other chemists. When she was studying chemistry in college, she expected her work to be solitary and independent. However, scientists often work in groups, so there is always someone to talk to about ideas. The work that Sarah does requires curiosity, a love of problem solving, communication skills, attention to details, time management, and lots of patience! Outside of work, Sarah likes to camp, read, spin wool, knit, sew, bake, make music, work on her house, and relax with her family.