For Your Functional Ink & Coating Requirements
Miranda Lawrence, 17, of Merrimack looks at her computer monitor while using a fourier transform infrared spectroscopy machine on Tuesday at Conductive Compounds in Hudson. Lawrence, a senior at Merrimack High School, is getting paid and getting some real-life experience before college as an intern at Conductive Compounds.
Staff Photo by COREY PERRINE
Story by KAREN LOVETT, Nashua Telegraph Staff Writer
HUDSON – It may be one of the most dreaded subjects in high school: chemistry. First, there are the funky goggles. Then, the dorky white smocks worn by every kid since 1972. And the smell: Can you say, sulfur?
“We’re always asking, ‘When am I going to use this in real life?’", said Miranda Lawrence, a senior at Merrimack High School. Well, thanks to a partnership with a local high-tech manufacturer, she’s begun to figure that out.
Since the spring, Lawrence, 17, has been working as a quasi-lab technician at Conductive Compounds Inc., a Hudson company that manufactures special inks, coatings and adhesives that are used in everything from the keypad on your microwave to missile-deactivating antennae.
Lawrence has always been drawn to math and science, but her work in the company’s lab has sparked a new passion.
“It’s so awesome to see the military and medical applications and see how chemistry is vital to the process,” Lawrence said. “This is how chemistry is used in real life.”
Lawrence snagged the work experience through Sean Muller, a Merrimack High science teacher, who has hosted Conductive Compounds President Don Banfield as a guest speaker in class for the last four years. When he visits students, Banfield said, he “gives them the ‘wow factor’" by “burning some stuff and blowing up a few things.”
Generating enthusiasm for science is one goal, but he also talks to students about the practical applications of chemistry, especially when it’s combined with technology and industry.
“It’s not just a bunch of chemistry geeks locked in a lab,” Banfield said. “It’s a creative process. It’s more artistic than you think.”
Banfield himself was “a terrible chemistry student” as a youngster, but really liked the subject when it worked with technology. In the mid-1990s, he was working in research and development for Velcro when he started tinkering in his garage with a toaster oven (a regifted wedding present) and a $70 drill press. Banfield would mix certain chemicals and materials in the press, pour them on a tray and bake it in the oven to learn about conductive heat.
He ended up leasing some industrial space in Londonderry and changing direction to electric conductives. His growing company began producing special inks, made with carbon and silver, that could be used in circuits for all kinds of applications, such as appliances, medical devices, vehicles, computers, solar panels, heaters and for the military and aerospace industry.
Last summer, the business moved to a bigger space in Hudson. Bucking the widespread economic trends of late, Banfield recently has added four employees and reported that business is growing. That’s another reason why he and Merrimack High School staff devised a work-study position at the lab.
“It’s good because, as a small business, you never have the resources to do exactly what you want to do,” Banfield said. “You’re always shuffling things around.”
The school staff picked Lawrence based on her interest in the practical aspects of science and technology and because of her lab skills.
Banfield intended to host a student for a simple, one-semester project, but said Lawrence was more than equipped to handle that and more. She’s moved on to using sophisticated equipment to analyze and catalog hundreds of different raw materials, which is helpful to the company for scientific comparison and so materials don’t change from shipment to shipment, Banfield said.
Since March, Lawrence has processed hundreds of samples and will continue her work through the end of the school year.
Lawrence is also measuring the effect of long-term heat and humidity on circuits, data that will be published in an industry trade journal and discussed at a trade symposium next year, Banfield said.
Lawrence, who is looking at schools such as Northeastern for a science degree, is excited about the work she’s doing.
“It’s a great opportunity to see what it will be like in a workplace,” Lawrence said. “I had a job in a department store before this. The contrast is huge. This seems so much more important to real life.”