Shobha Parekh
Product Development Scientist in Research and Development
Wyo-Ben Inc.
Billings, Montana

Bachelor of Science, Chemistry, University of Bombay (1976)
Master of Science, Organic Chemistry, Tennessee Technological University (1979)
Two years of physical chemistry course work toward PhD at University of Montana (1981)

Areas of Expertise: Synthesis of Organic Compounds, Analytical Chemistry and now, Clay Science.

How I became interested in clays

Since every member of my family had some education in science, I knew I was going to study science after I graduated from high school. I looked up to my sister who, at that time, was studying physics. She would often come home and play with electronic toys. She would build a model portable radio or galvanometer from scratch or from kits. I admired her greatly. This first intrigued my curiosity towards science. However, when I went to college, I was still unsure of my major. In my freshman chemistry lab I enjoyed the beautiful colors and shapes of crystal made from different solutions I prepared. It was then that I decided to become a chemist. The shiny crystals on the beach attracted me whenever I went for a walk, however my interest in geology and rocks was minimal at that time. I was more drawn to how the chemical reaction took place. I developed interest in clay sometime later in my life when I was hired to work for a company that mines and sells clay (sodium bentonite) products.

I started working for this company five years ago. I was fascinated, and a little confused because many of the things I was learning were new to me. My boss was very knowledgeable for he had years of hands-on experience with sodium bentonite. He became my mentor. The more I learned about the chemistry, properties, and various uses of sodium bentonite, the more I often felt this clay is like a miracle dust! It has so many uses and applications. Some of the traditional uses are drilling, slurry trenching, foundry, etc. The sodium bentonite, unlike calcium bentonite, swells in water to ten times its weight. It is found nowhere in the world in such large deposits like it is in Wyoming. Occasionally it is also referred as Wyoming bentonite. My chemistry background has been useful. Most of my time is spent researching and developing new products that will enable the customer to do the job efficiently and economically for any particular application. In order to do this, first I try to understand the goals of the customer, then accordingly, I design or develop a product to satisfy the customer’s needs. Sometimes I have to devise a test method to simulate the application to test the new product.

Thus my job is challenging and exciting. It keeps my curious mind busy.

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