This week, we interviewed the insightful and witty, Steve Hooper, who is a Biotechnology Engineer working on the Midori Animal Health team.
What's the most challenging part of your field?
The reward is in the challenge, and I believe that is what attracts most of us to this environment. Having the opportunity to confront a problem in uncharted waters with no clear route to an answer challenges each of us to seek out new knowledge and assimilate it with our current understanding.
What is it like working in a startup space?
The way I feel most accurately answers this question is through a long-winded analogy using outdated pop-culture references:
Growing up I always loved this trope in older TV shows like the ‘A-Team’ where the protagonists are put in a seemingly impossible scenario and use their combined intelligence and resourcefulness to achieve a favorable result, completely unexpected by their foes or the audience.
A typical episode goes something like this: The A-Team is made aware of a problem, usually in the form of some cattle rustlers or nefarious actors trying to extort a small town. The protagonists go to confront the problem head-on and inevitably get captured by the villains. The A-Team is then locked inside of an old warehouse or garage with a seemingly miscellaneous set of tools and components. In this hopeless situation, our heroes take a moment to look inward at themselves and meditate on their knowledge, skills, and experience. Then, through a minute-long montage set to an uplifting score, they use their knowledge in conjunction with resources found in their environment to build something clever and unexpected. Upon demonstration of their achievement to the villains, they manage to bust out of the compound and foil the enemy’s plans. During this demonstration the audience gets to experience their triumphant theme song, further cementing their accomplishments and inspiring dreams of future successes. In this standard story arc, we have the entire process of discovery in the start-up environment:
1. A known problem with an unknown solution
2. The effort to apply conventional techniques and methodologies to solve the problem
3. The attempt to devise new techniques and methodologies to solve the problem based on current knowledge and available resources
4. The generation of a favorable or unfavorable result teaching us either the correct way or an incorrect way to approach a problem
And since we are free of an imminent mortal threat such as cattle rustlers, we are afforded this bonus step:
5. The ability to repeat steps three and four until a favorable result is achieved
While the A-Team might construct a light artillery platform out of old sewer pipe, a grain silo hopper, fertilizer, bales of silage and a barn-find 1971 Chevy Nova with a full tank of fresh gas which has been meticulously stored under a dust cover stitched together from old burlap sacks, members of start-ups focus on the application of engineering and chemistry concepts to design and improve processes to acquire and validate data. The process of taking stock of your available resources and executing a reliable and replicable plan is the same. This is the start-up experience every single day. To quote Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith: “I love it when a plan comes together.”
What is your favorite lab equipment to use?
Really anything that I had a hand in designing, building, or maintaining. It is immensely satisfying to conduct research on an apparatus that you have constructed for a purpose-built application or an older machine that you maintain and provide care to keep it alive well past its service life. Bonus points if you can get the job done without ordering anything new and using currently existing raw or repurposed materials in the laboratory. The more unorthodox, the better.
What would you like to see for the future of your field of research in 20 years?
I’ve personally been very appreciative of the collective paradigm shift to focus more on sustainable engineering, and I hope this mindset can keep momentum and permeate further through the coming years.
As ethical scientists and engineers, it is important to understand and adhere to the principles of green chemistry to make any current and future work we do more efficient, less hazardous, and more environmentally
sustainable. It is even more important to understand and adopt the philosophy that no process is ever complete.
There is no end zone or finish line to sustainable design. Kaizen is a Japanese word that translates to “change for the better”, and as professional scientists and engineers, our objective is to always evaluate, improve, iterate, and strive for perfection while knowing that true perfection is ultimately unattainable. True perfection is in one having the ability to recognize that nothing is ever perfect.
We must hold the philosophy to constantly evaluate, improve, and iterate every new and established process to ensure it is done most efficient and safest way possible.
How do you like working in Cambridge?
I appreciate how diverse Cambridge is on literally every metric, from cultural to culinary, from people’s education to their experience. No two personal stories or life paths are the same, but what unites us all is a drive to push forward in our respective fields of study in a cooperative effort to ultimately advance our understanding of what is possible. Working in this environment with so many talented individuals can expose you to seemingly innocuous conversations that can spur a completely fresh line of questions or provide insight into an entirely different approach to a problem you may have been finding difficulty in tackling.
When not working at Midori what do you typically like to do?
Most weeknights I can be spotted doing an admittedly loose interpretation of road or trail-running in and around my hometown of Nashua, and on the weekends my fiancée and I will make progress towards our goal to hike all of New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot mountains. I also enjoy singing and perform whenever the
opportunity presents itself. If I find a spare hour or two at the end of the week, I may fill the time by playing a classic video game like Contra, Command and Conquer, Tekken, Twisted Metal, or I may watch a few episodes of an old anime, a stand-up special or a sitcom, or perhaps knock a few chapters out of a classic book. You cannot beat the classics.
A big thank you goes out to Steve for being the first Nest.Bio Scientist in the Spotlight!