If Melissa Tille has its way, when elementary and high school students in the Sioux Falls area are asked the age-old question of what they want to be when they grow up, it becomes a common answer among the counterfeit responses from doctors, lawyers, and teachers To be a “scientist”.
Tille is the analytical laboratory manager at POET and works mainly in the research and development department of POET. Both inside and outside of her work at POET, she is dedicated to sharing with students and members of the community how chemistry and science affect her world.
She often conducts hands-on chemistry demonstrations with students at local elementary schools such as Annie Sullivan Elementary School, or works with the Augustana University Chemistry Club on a presentation for students at Fred Assem Elementary School in Sioux Falls.
It’s especially important for elementary and high school students to have role models who are scientists as they come up with ideas for their future careers, says Tille.
“It’s a lot easier to think of being a doctor for people who are interested in science because they see doctors all the time, but it’s harder to see scientists. I think it’s important to see scientists in some way are visible in the community, “she says. “Children form opinions about science when they are very young. That first impression can take a blow. I had a great experience with chemistry mentors who encouraged my interest in science. I always look for ways to encourage others to enjoy science. “
Jetty Duffy-Matzner, PhD, Professor of Organic Chemistry at Augustana University, has worked with Tille through the local division of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Sioux Valley, a national scientific society whose vision is to make people’s lives through the “transformative power” to improve chemistry. “
According to Duffy-Matzner, the work that Tille and others are doing on ACS is critical in showing the public the positive side of chemistry.
“I think the problem with chemistry in particular is that the public thinks it’s a bad thing. When they see “chemistry” they think it’s confusing or difficult. You don’t see how this affects your everyday life. … It’s just important to let them know that it’s not scary – it’s something to be educated about – and let people know that it has an impact on their world and has many benefits. “
Tille’s work during her 13 year tenure at POET undoubtedly meets the criteria for making positive change for the community and the world at large. With her experience as a chemist, Tille supports research efforts for groundbreaking projects such as Project LIBERTY and also works on assignments to support POET’s 27 other bioprocessing sites. The LIBERTY project, a joint venture between POET and the Dutch life science company DSM, is based in Emmetsburg, Iowa and produces biofuels from bio-waste such as corn on the cob and husks.
Her research on cellulosic biofuels has been a common thread throughout her career at POET. Tille has been researching the LIBERTY project since 2007 and has worked on methods for monitoring the biofuel process. The highlight of her tenure at POET is the launch of the facility on a commercial scale and the presence on site in Emmetsburg, Iowa for the groundbreaking ceremony in 2012.
“It was a big goal to make ethanol from a waste product. It was an innovation. We had to do a lot of hard work and pave the way, ”she says. “It was exciting to see Project LIBERTY transition from research to commercial scale.”
A PASSION TO HELP PEOPLE OUTSIDE THE POET
At POET, colleagues say that Tille leads with compassion and attention to detail and has helped improve technological developments and analytical skills for the POET research team.
“Melissa leads from the heart,” said Dave Bushong, POET senior vice president of research. “She has a passion for helping people both inside and outside POET. Melissa has held leadership positions in activities such as the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, teaching Sunday school, and serving as foster parents. Her dedication to making people successful has made a powerful impact as a POET research leader. “
Shon Van Hulzen, director of quality control at POET, affirms that Tille is resilient and calm – two great qualities to be had in the fast-paced field of POET research.
“Melissa has a gentle, kind, and pleasant spirit,” says Van Hulzen. “She is a lot of fun to work with and she is always ready to step in and help. She maintains a positive attitude even in difficult circumstances. “
Tille joined POET in 2005 as a chemist after working in Minneapolis on method development and product testing for a pharmaceutical company.
As an analytical chemist, Tille draws on her knowledge of chemistry and applies it to nature. Analytical chemists use instruments and methods to measure components in a sample. For example, an analytical chemist would find a way to test a polymer (a large molecule) instead of creating one.
Tille has researched both cellulosic and starch-based biofuels and has developed and introduced new test methods for POET’s bioprocessing equipment. She has worked on test methods to assess how new ingredients or mechanical changes can affect the process used to make biofuels, and tests for mycotoxins, which are chemical toxins produced by mold on the grain can.
In 2016, she led a team of six researchers in research and development (R&D) at POET. Her work continues to fulfill her love of learning, she says, as she has the opportunity as a manager to get involved in many projects.
She has also learned more about leading people and is enjoying this new aspect of her career. “POET entrusted me with an important job and I enjoyed the new challenge. I am happy to do everything I can to make my team a success. “
While her current leadership role includes more meetings that she often hold from the lab, she is never too far from her lab coat. “I like to study when I’m in the lab,” she says.
As a scientist, POET is the best environment to fulfill her joy of learning. The company values innovation and pursues new projects on every corner.
“It was very dynamic; I am always learning and exploring new things. ”