Chemist Celebrates 55 Years with FPL

Assuming you were already born, what were you doing in 1966?

Designer Mary Quant introduced the mini skirt, Simon & Garfunkel reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with their iconic hit, “The Sound of Silence,” and both the Star Trek and Batman series debuted on TV.

And if your name was Linda Lorenz, you were fresh out of college, starting your first day as a chemist at the Forest Products Laboratory.

Linda is still here, conducting her experiments and celebrating her 55th anniversary at FPL.

Chemist Linda Lorenz and colleagues at a length-of-service ceremony in 1996, when she celebrated 30 years with the Forest Products Laboratory.

Linda knew from a very young age that she wanted to go into chemistry.

“I think I was about 13 and had expressed interest in science in general and chemistry in particular, so I got a chemistry set for Christmas. I’ve heard a lot of other chemists say the same thing. It was fun, and I didn’t blow anything up. Chemistry sets for kids in those days were a lot riskier than the ones you can buy today!”

She is the eldest of three sisters and two brothers, some of whom also went into chemistry and electronics.

Linda left her hometown of Rockford, Illinois for the first time to attend the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where she has lived ever since. In addition to chemistry, she enjoyed courses in bacteriology, genetics – and art.

“I took art classes and especially enjoyed drawing architecture in one class. It was a fun class, and I got an ‘A’ because I liked it so much.”

These days, Linda also enjoys photography, skiing, and hiking.

Starting her work at FPL in 1966 with the study of wood preservatives, Linda has been part of the adhesives research group since 1986.

“There are a lot of pluses to staying with a job,” she observed.

Linda reminisced about what the environment at FPL was like in the late ‘60s.

“Everybody was in this building, because buildings 33 and 34, across the parking lot, were just starting to be built. Then people from here started moving there. Before all that, you could walk up and down the hallway and smell chemicals – I mean it was obvious that there were chemistry labs upstairs! But once all the chemists moved over to the other buildings, there were no more chemical smells.”

Linda Lorenz conducts an experiment from about 1976.

Unfortunately, life as a female chemist 55 years ago had its drawbacks.

“Yeah, way back, I had a supervisor who was … let’s say, not helpful. He always promoted some young man who came over from the university before he would ever even consider promoting a woman who was already on the team. He said some things to me that I thought were misogynistic, but of course I couldn’t prove anything.”

There has long been very low turnover at FPL. Why do people like working here so much?

“Well, for the most part, it’s always been a great group of people and we have this research tradition here, and a lot of people hear about that and come here because the lab is what it is. They know it’s a great place to work and they want to be part of it, and they stay.”

International relations is also part of it.

“We collaborate with scientists all over the world. Research having to do with wood has its own set of conferences and meetings, and we all know each other. We’ve had a lot of visiting scientists, even during the pandemic, who are always interested in coming here and doing research, and some of our researchers travel internationally as well.”

What really strikes Linda as a big change since she started at the FPL 55 years ago?

“I think not replacing people who’ve retired,” she said. “We’ve shrunk down to such a small size. I don’t know where the critical mass is, but you have to have a certain number of people to maintain research. Congress needs to know more about the important work we do.”

How long does she see herself continuing here?

Linda laughed heartily.

“A couple of years ago, at the last length of service award we had here, there was somebody from the Northern Research Station who had 65 years. I don’t know if he’s still working or not, but I thought, okay, I’ve got a new goal to go for. It’s only 10 years away!

“I’ve stayed at the lab for my whole career because I worked in several groups doing analytical chemistry, microbiology, chromatography, and synthetic chemistry, among other things, and it was all very interesting. And the people have been good to work with.”

The bottom line?

“I’m not planning to retire any time soon, that’s for sure. I plan to keep doing chemistry, which is fun. There are some people who can’t wait to retire, but others like it here so much that they become volunteers after retirement. For my part, I plan on staying healthy and doing chemistry.”

Trees Are Climate Change, Carbon Storage Heroes

Mature trees like this Elm can sequester more than 48 pounds of carbon dioxide in a single year. Photo by USDA Forest Service

J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, once wrote, “I longed to devise a setting in which the trees might really march to war.”

If climate change is a battle for Earth’s survival, then trees will be a vital army holding the line. When Tolkien imagined trees marching to war, he couldn’t have foreseen how relevant those words would one day be.

Trees are a bastion against climate change.

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Big Grant Funding Awarded to Tiniest, Mightiest Building Material of the Future

The Forest Products Laboratory is pleased to announce the littlest big news that could help change how we fabricate the world around us.

CN-enhanced concrete looks and acts like traditional concrete but is much stronger. Photo by Michael Goergen, U.S. Endowment.

USDA Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) in collaboration with P3Nano from the US Endowment for Forests and Communities(U.S. Endowment) announced ten awards this month for projects ranging from one to five years, totaling $2.4 million in grants to further nanocellulose research.

The partnership funds research to evaluate the safety of cellulosic nanomaterials (CNs), develop process improvements to reduce production cost, and provide new market opportunities for advanced applications. Everything from biodegradable snack packaging to concrete additives that significantly reduce CO2 emissions are possible with CN innovation.

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The Journal Nature Features FPL Researcher

Junyong (J.Y.) Zhu, PhD
Fiber and Chemical Science Research
Research General Engineer

Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researcher Junyong (J.Y.) Zhu was featured in the journal Nature for his contribution to the recent article, “Developing fibrillated cellulose as a sustainable technological material.”

Fibrillated cellulose has the unique characteristics and sustainable properties that could make it the building block polymer of the very near future.

A polymer is a material used in the manufacture of innumerable commercial products, from grocery bags to automobile parts to construction materials to the brush that runs through your hair every morning. Basically, a polymer is a fabrication building block. Currently, commercial polymers are sourced primarily from metal and petroleum.

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The Next in Forest Products Laboratory’s Women in STEM Legacy

This is the third in a series of inspirational stories about the incredible women in STEM careers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL).

Eloise Gerry, first FPL & Forest Service woman scientist.

When FPL researcher, Eloise Gerry, became the first female scientist in the Forest Service, she probably would have never imagined the numerous and often surprising ways STEM careers have developed since 1910. The need for STEM literate individuals, who also have the skills to merge creative thinking with the ability to translate the science in artistic and easily understandable ways, is growing.

FPL celebrates the legacy and precedent Gerry set not only during Women’s History Month but every month of the year. In this edition, we would like to continue to showcase the incredible women in STEM who have followed in her extraordinary, trailblazing footsteps. Take a moment to meet the phenomenal FPL women who work in unconventional STEM careers and have devoted their lives to science delivery and a more informed STEM public: 

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