Based in Rochester, Minnesota, Pharmaceutical Specialties Inc. (PSI), the maker of Vanicream™ Moisturizing Cream, has hired college chemistry students though the SciTech Internship Program since 2017. They expanded their lab this year to accommodate the testing and manufacturing of some of their new personal care products, specifically an anti-dandruff shampoo, a medicated soap and a facial cleanser.

When Aubrey Clark was brought on board to help the Quality Control lab over the summer, she expressed an interest in getting to work in a microbiology lab, so the PSI team tailored her internship experience to better accommodate her exposure and desire to learn in multiple laboratory settings.

In the beginning they had her start with infrared spectroscopy. “Basically, you put a sample on a crystal,” Clark explained, “and then we turn on a laser causing it to display a spectrum on the screen so you can determine the chemical’s molecular structure based on bond vibrations.”

But this was just the start. The more time Clark spent in the lab, the more procedures she learned. Her main microbiology lab task involved culturing, in which she would dilute a product and monitor it for growth, as a way to check for contamination.

Learning together
While working in the lab, Clark gained experience by testing raw materials for identification and for determining the pH values.  She also helped by conducting release testing, such as viscosity measurements, for finished products.

“A lot of what I learned during this internship was how to take basic chemistry knowledge that I had from the classroom and applying that to real life. Getting to see that in person has helped me better understand certain concepts. That’s been really beneficial,” Clark said.

She wasn’t alone in the learning experience, however. Dr. Erik Kuester, a lab director at PSI, learned a lot about leadership and management by working as a sort of mentor for Clark while she was in the lab.

“I have realized that not everybody learns at the same rate,” Dr. Kuester said. “Interns can make mistakes and that’s okay. They have taught me that sometimes you need to take a step back, just be patient and teach them the right way to do things. ”  

“We really enjoy having interns at PSI,” Dr. Kuester concluded. “If Aubrey wanted to come back over Christmas break we’d love to have her.

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