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Pruden practices industrial chemistry, philanthropy this summer

A Lyon junior gave back to the community while gaining career experience this summer.

John Pruden, of Allen, Texas, was accepted into the Society of Chemical Industry (SCI) Scholars Internship Program and worked with the research and development lab at Hexion Inc. in Stafford, Texas. 

Hexion is a chemical company specializing in thermoset resins. Pruden said the company makes specialty chemicals and sells them to corporations.

Pruden shadowed lab technicians, helping refine the synthesis of a surfactant, a compound that lowers the surface tension between two liquids.

“Soap has surfactants in it. That’s what gives it that lathering bubbly property,” he said.

Pruden also ran accelerated shelf life studies on different dispersion, the process in which particles of one material are dispersed in another material.

“We basically took those dispersions and stuck them in an oven to monitor their viscosity over time,” he said. “Every week, I would take viscosity measurements and try to correlate differences.”

“Our goal was to further refine the process by which we make those surfactants.”

Fortunately, Pruden had gained experience working with a variety of research instruments through his lab work at Lyon.

“We get a lot of hands on experience with (it), and I also became familiar with additional instrumentation through my internship at Future Fuel Chemical Company in Batesville,” he said.

“I was taught how to take viscosity measurements. I had never used a viscometer before working at Hexion, but I’d seen so much other instrumentation that it was really easy to figure it out.”

Pruden also coordinated a school supply drive with other interns. He worked with the Houston Food Bank and helped raise over $1,100.

“Houston Food Bank is a great nonprofit that provides food to people in Southeast Texas. They have a great program called Teachers Aid, which is a food bank-style school supply shop for teachers working in low income areas.”

Working with the nonprofit was more effective than door-to-door canned food drives, he said, because Houston Food Bank can make up to three meals out of a $1 donation.

“Helping people is a huge thing for me. It’s difficult to feel like you’re helping people when you’re making soap … This was a way for me to help the community that had taken me in.”

Through the internship, Pruden learned that industrial chemistry is more results-oriented.

“In academia, we would try to publish a paper on why these different processes impact this specific reaction in this way. With industrial research, we wanted to find the answers not to be novel and publish anything but for practical reasons,” Pruden said.

As a chemistry and mathematics major, Pruden has discovered a new potential career path at Hexion.

“There’s a lot I didn’t know about how intense process research is. My pure chemistry background helped them, and now I’m definitely more comfortable in the engineering field than I would’ve anticipated.”

Pruden presented on his internship at Lyon College Career Center’s Summer Experience Fair (SEF) on Aug. 29, winning the first place Dean’s Prize of $1,000.

Jody Smotherman, ‘93, vice president of community engagement at White River Health System, served as an alumni judge at the SEF. He said all of the students represented Lyon and their work in impressive fashion, but Pruden stood out because of his professionalism and presentation skills.

“He was articulate in his presentation, professional in his demeanor, and demonstrated passion for his topic and work,” Smotherman said. “John’s ability to communicate a complex topic in simple and brief terms was particularly impressive.”