Javier Grajeda

From SULI Intern To Process Chemist

Internship program: SULI
Year: 2011
Host DOE Laboratory/Facility: Ames Laboratory, Ames, IA
Mentor Name: Javier Vela

What was your research topic during your internship?
I worked on the preparation of nanomaterials. Our goal was to generate these materials with built-in sites for straightforward chemical modification. This enables us to alter the properties of the materials, while avoiding the risk of damaging the nanocrystal during modification.

What was it like coming to a National Lab for your internship?
It was my first time away from home. My mentor, Professor Javier Vela, and his team made me feel welcome and at home in Iowa. At my home institution, I reported directly to the principal investigator. During my SULI internship I worked with a graduate student. A constant exchange of ideas took place between my grad student mentor, Javier, and myself. They happily answered questions and welcomed any ideas I brought to the table, which made feel like a valued member of the team.

What do you currently do, and where do you hope your career takes you?
I work as a process chemist at the Eastman Chemical Company. I hope to continue working in industry, managing exciting and challenging projects, and developing new technologies and materials that enhance quality of life for the benefit of society.

Think of a time you experienced success during your academic or professional career. What did this success look like?
During graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill, a colleague and myself designed and executed the development of a new catalysis center. This was done in collaboration with my current employer, Eastman, for the benefit of the Chemistry Department at UNC. We went to great lengths to institute safety measures and training protocols, to maximize research throughput in a safe manner. This endeavor played a major role in my eventual employment at Eastman after graduate school.

Think of a time you experienced failure during your academic or professional career. How did you feel at the time? How did you deal with the failure and work past it?
I spent six months at the University of Oslo during graduate school, funded by NSF and the Norwegian Research Council. The first five months of my project were very challenging, as I was struggling to find ways to synthesize our target metal complexes. I kept trying different ways, and during the last month the pieces finally began falling into place. Both my UNC and UiO advisors and I agreed it was worth further pursuing this project when I got back to UNC. This eventually led to a collaborative publication of our work between the two institutions.

Did you make any important personal connections during your internship?
I have kept in touch with Javier Vela since SULI in 2011. He was just starting his career when I was an intern, and I’ve enjoyed watching him become a major player in his field. I have kept him up-to-date with my career, and been encouraged by his support. For example, in 2019, I had the privilege of giving a talk at Iowa State University at the invitation of Javier. I’ve also kept in touch with Steve Karsjen, who coordinates the SULI program at Ames. For almost ten years now he’s sent congratulatory notes for all major milestones in my professional development.

What are your values? How do express your values through your academic or professional career?
In everything I do I strive to work hard and be humble. I hope these values have been reflected throughout my career.


Javier and his graduate student mentor during the 2011 SULI Internship