Pharmaceutical Chemist, Angel Joseph is a passionate advocate for Environmental Protection.
A graduate of Technology University of the Shannon (TUS), formerly Athlone Institute of Technology, and Central University of Tamil Nadu and Deva Matha College, India, Angel leads the Laboratory at Soltec Ireland, Ltd., Waste Management specialists in Mullingar. Co. Westmeath.
In her work, Angel finds herself on the frontline of environmental protection, assessing waste materials that could be developed from recovered, recycled or treated hazardous waste.
In celebration of International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11th, we sat down to talk to her about her role, her academic career, and her opinion on Women’s contribution to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics sectors).
Angel, you are a long way from home! Tell us about your background and your academic qualifications.
My family consists of my mother and two elder brothers as my Father unfortunately died when I was just 4 year old. My Mother became everything to us, and did the trojan job of raising three children single-handedly. Through her energy and strong will, she ensured that we were afforded every opportunity we would have had if my Father had lived. She took on dual roles as both “father and mother” and she did a remarkable job. Despite becoming a widow so young, she is the strongest women I have ever seen in my life. All our accomplishments and achievements are really hers. We owe her everything. These days, we all are settled in different places in the world, living peaceful, happy lives – and it is all thanks to my Mother.
She valued education very highly, and with her support, I completed my undergraduate degree in Pure Chemistry and Post Graduate Diploma in Chemical Laboratory Technician, in my home country of India. Finally for my Masters in Biopharmaceutical Technology, I choose to attend AIT in Ireland, now TUS. I loved my time in the college!
What led you to this career?
Well, I love science! You know they say that those who love their work never work a day in their lives? I am one of those lucky ones!
Since I was a little girl, I was curious to experiment and learn about Chemistry. I was lucky to have an amazing Chemistry Teacher in my school, who made even boring lessons interesting and stimulating. She would say ‘Your day starts with chemistry. Everything you see and do is Chemistry’ – and I find myself saying that now too! This is the power of an inspiring teacher.
Chemistry is just so interesting! As my teacher said, everything we are and do stems from Chemistry, and it underpins all the other sciences. Almost everything we use in our daily lives is made from the products of the chemical industry: cars, electronic devices, paints, perfumes, disinfectants, pharmaceuticals and even much of what we wear, or eat.
There is a famous poem you may have come across, called ‘Stardust’.
“We have calcium in our bones,
iron in our veins,
carbon in our souls,
and nitrogen in our brains.
93 percent stardust, with souls made of flames,
we are all just stars that have people names.”
― Nikita Gill, British-Indian Poet.
I love this poem. The worlds of science and the arts don’t often collide – but the poet is completely right. Actually 99% of the human body is formed from just 11 Chemical compounds!
What brought you to Ireland?
I choose to study in Ireland because it has a more prolific BioPharmaceutical sector than any other country. Ireland punches above her weight in this space as the world’s largest net exporter of pharmaceuticals. I knew that studying here would place me at the cutting edge of the industry, and present great career opportunity.
I also loved the cultural diversity of the country. People are friendly, welcoming and curious. Irish people have travelled to other countries in search of opportunity for centuries, and they are interested in my story as someone who has travelled to live and work here. The level of expertise and knowledge is very high amongst my Irish peers. The focus on education is to be admired.
Moreover, Ireland is one of the safest places to live and work as a woman. I have not experienced racism or sexism here – despite being a non-native woman in STEM, which is traditionally a male-dominated space.
Since living here, I have travelled to most counties and seen a lot of this gorgeous green country, which is quite different from the tropical location where I grew up.
Tell us a bit about Soltec – what you do in a typical day?
Soltec was one of the companies I targeted during my final year in college. I wanted to work in an innovative environment, and feel that my work was making a difference to the world. When I was called for an interview, it was a ‘dream come true’ moment. This was my first job in the Industry after college, and I love working here. A typical day finds me in the on-site Laboratory, and always begins with coffee, but no two days are alike here, and that’s part of the charm!
We manage hazardous waste for our clients which means that every waste shipment is assessed, recycled if possible, or stored/disposed of safely.
When waste is accepted, it is sampled and tested using a number of analytical techniques such as GD-FID, Karl Fischer and Density to name but a few, so that we understand what compounds and materials are included in the waste. The assessment phase is critical, because each component may need to be handled in a specific way, by regulation. During the assessment, we are also seeking methods to safely and economically recover and recycle the waste into reusable material.
One of our innovations is the distillation and filtration of solvents, often used in the paint industry. We have developed unique processes to recover used, hazardous solvent material and essentially purify it so it can be returned to our client and used again. Our distillation facility is the only one in Ireland, and we are very proud of this capability.
That brings us on to the subject of Environmental Protection – what difference are you making?
Environmental decline and the impact of Climate Change will be personally felt by more people, more often as the years go on. It’s scary and overwhelming, and we all have to become proactive about it.
Waste management is one of the major issues that our world is facing. For decades, we’ve been a disposable society based on fast fashion, fast food, single use plastics, creating $1 Trillion dollars worth of food waste each year – which is enough to feed every person on the planet many times over!
At Soltec, we advocate for a Circular Economy, which is an economic model that is restorative and regenerative by design. We aim to keep materials and products in-use in the economy for as long as possible, and eliminate waste through innovative recycling techniques. We actively look for ways to avoid disposing of materials after use. This kind of innovation is hugely exciting for me as a scientist and for the business community – not to mention for all human beings who are concerned about protecting the planet. In some ways we are on the front line of this fight to save our Environment. Our team at Soltec are finding ways to turn Waste from a problem to be solved, into a valuable asset that can be reused. We’re Making Waste Work by recycling it!
As a woman in science, what advice do you have for other women and girls considering this career path?
Science is a part of our life which we can’t and shouldn’t avoid. There is nothing without science. With or without the recognition they deserve – Women have contributed to science in a variety of ways, many of which are very significant and often dramatic. The scientists who discovered the composition of stars, the composition of the Earth’s core, the cure for leprosy, the creation of penicillin, the structure of DNA, manufacture of insulin, and the “human computer” whose mathematical calculations fuelled the first human space programme – were all women! These outstanding female scientists broke ground and advanced our understanding of the universe we live in.
Women in STEM have a role to play in supporting and encouraging other women to enter our field. The next generation of scientific discovery is probably sitting in a classroom right now, and it’s just as likely to be from a young woman as it is from a young man!
It’s up to those of us who have gone before to inspire that next generation. Companies like Soltec are creating opportunities for scientific advancement in industry. They are setting the standard for inclusive, diverse workspaces that welcome and foster talent and innovation.
The future looks bright for Women and Girls in Science! We have a lot to celebrate on International Day of Women and Girls in Science!