Keeping up with SiGNa

All of the bang, none of the boom with Sarina Bellows

August 22, 2016


Sarina Bellows, a Research Chemist at SiGNa’s Rochester Technology Center, will be presenting at this week’s 252nd annual American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition in Philadelphia, PA. She will discuss the controllable reactivity of stabilized alkali metals and their application for organic synthesis. Join her on Tuesday from 8:30-9:00 a.m. in Room 116 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center to hear more about: Stabilized alkali metals: All of the bang, none of the boom!

Sarina was also generous enough to share her thoughts and experiences as a promising, young chemist – and her work with SiGNa materials in the interview below.

How did you get your start as a scientist?

My parents probably realized I wanted to be a chemist when I was seven years old and I started to make ‘potions.’ I remember one time I brought one of my concoctions to school in a glass Snapple bottle. It included – among other ingredients – white toothpaste. In retrospect, it seems a little dangerous, since I would grab anything inside or outside the house and mix them together. Nothing ever exploded, though!

Then, during my high school years, the Harry Potter books and movies became very big. And, I remember sitting in my chemistry class thinking, “If I could understand chemistry, I could do anything. I could do magic!” I’ve always been fascinated to see what science could discover – and sometimes it really does feel like magic.

After high school, I went to Monroe Community College for a couple of years, and then earned my Bachelors at Syracuse University. I finished up at the University of Rochester, graduating with my PhD in Chemistry.

What have been the areas of scientific focus – both through your studies and, now, your early-stage career?

Ever since I took Inorganic Chemistry as an undergrad, I really liked d-orbitals. The d-orbitals are what give transition metals their special properties. In transition metal ions, the outermost d-orbitals are incompletely filled with electrons, so they can easily give and take electrons. This makes transition metals prime candidates for catalysis. You can do so much with them.

In grad school, I also worked a lot with pyrophoric materials (liquids and solids that have the potential to spontaneously ignite in air). All of this led me to SiGNa – where I was really fascinated to see how they were able to take all these dangerous materials and make them not so dangerous.

Can you describe your day-to-day role at SiGNa?

I mostly work with two materials – Active Gel and Active Dry. I am focused on how they act as a reducing agent with different organic substrates. We work with halogens – or the d-halogenation of molecules in different experiments. We do ester reductions to produce alcohols – and we do Birch reductions.

Our goal is to explore different ways to use these materials and expand their commercial application set. The new R&D lab that I work in has only been up and running for a couple of months now, but eventually we will also be looking at developing new materials.

I can say that from my first day on the job, I’m so happy to be here. SiGNa is a great company, with such bright minds working here. Everyone is so smart and so driven. I’m very excited to be starting out my career here. I feel quite lucky.

What has been your experience in taking something from the lab and turning it into a product?

Being so early in my career, this is my first experience in commercializing a product out of the lab. For me, personally, I’m doing a lot of learning and listening to be able to translate what the industry wants, and what our customers might be interested in for the future.

I think the fact that these are safe materials to handle with many different applications is a real selling point. These materials are a heck of a lot safer to use than lithium aluminum hydride or sodium. Part of our job at SiGNa’s Rochester lab is to more fully develop the value proposition for our technology solutions so customers will want to make the switch to our materials.

I wish I knew about these materials years ago! I definitely would have tried them while I was working on my dissertation!

What are you most proud of?

That’s an easy one…my daughter. She’s three years old, and – although I know I’m a little biased – she’s the smartest, sassiest, most incredible little girl in the world.

As a young woman with a bright career ahead of her in chemistry, what advice would you give to girls – maybe like your own daughter – who are thinking about a career in the STEM fields?

I tell everyone – both men and women – to just be yourself. There’s no point in conforming your personality to the people around you, and then being unhappy. For myself, I know that I can be a little too bubbly and perky for everyone’s taste, but that’s who I am. It took me a long time to get to this point, and accepting all aspects of myself helps make me a stronger, more confident and independent scientist.

What does SiGNa look like in 5 years?

Right now we have an entire R&D wing at the Eastman Business Park. From a research perspective, I see us continuing to grow in size and scope, supporting the addition of a few more manufacturing plants that make the materials we develop in the lab. SiGNa’s scientists will be busy developing amazing technology, and we’ll just have to ask, “Can you make this product at a very large scale?”


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