Margery Cortes-Clerget

Senior Research Specialist
Dow

How is your job related to climate and/or sustainability?

Early on in my studies, I was lucky to find an internship in a company delivering active ingredient for the cosmetic industry. I got my first exposure to peptide synthesis. At that time, back in 2012, I was asked, as a side project, to figure out how to make peptides without organic solvents, or at least using greener solvents. That was a thing even back then ! I did not solve this problem then, but it stayed in a corner of my mind. Later, when I joined the group of Professor Lipshutz at the University of California, Santa Barbara, as a postdoc, I naturally wanted to address this. I developed a 1-pot, 2-step deprotection/coupling peptide synthesis in an aqueous micellar solution. I later developed a surfactant specifically designed for peptide synthesis, that is now explored in several companies, including Greentech, who sponsored this research. My postdoc also opened the doors to a 1-year postdoc position at Novartis, Switzerland. Micellar catalysis is expending in the pharmaceutical industry, and my role was to support the implementation of this technology at scale, for drug synthesis. But this is during my postdoc at UCSB that I had the chance to participate to a DOW campus recruiting interview, which led to my current position as a Senior Research Specialist. It turned out that my background in Green Chemistry and my strong interest in Sustainability was one of the trigger to hire me. Today at Dow, I am involved in the development of biodegradable materials for Home and Personal Care, and I am also very active within the Dow sustainability network. It is clear that Green Chemistry and Sustainability is in the spotlight of chemical companies, from pharma to material science.

What training was particularly important to enabling your work?

I only attend one (optional) Green Chemistry course during my education, because there was not much offering at the time. I am glad to see that more educational contents are available nowadays. My exposure during my postdocs really planted the seed and shaped my mindset so I decided to pursue additional courses either through Coursera or EDX, and I started the “Green Chemistry and Chemical Stewardship Certificate Program” from the University of Washington. The knowledge I acquired then helps me to understand my company’s sustainability goals, and helps me to shape my research so it can align with them. I can also apply this knowledge in the Sustainability network, especially for developing tools and share educational contents to a broader audience.

What advice do you have for people looking for careers in climate and/or sustainability? 

It is important to have the big picture in mind. We don’t want to replace a technology that is detrimental to the environment by one that is even worst, or has a negative societal impact. Environmental, societal and economical aspects have to work together. Looking at and understanding Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is also important. While one step can be improved, it should not have a negative impact up or down the line. The main advice I have is to stay informed. Sustainability is a relatively new concept in industry, so we learn something new every day. Self-education is key to stay up-to-date. Finally, being passionate about this is everything. Don’t pursue this type of career because it is the trend, do it because it is part of your core value.