Science Wednesday: OnAir – Veteran Chemists Form Lasting Bond

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On a recent visit to the Southern California Particle Center, amidst the cold sterility of lab equipment and the drone of machinery, a feeling of warmth was palpable. I was there to discuss organic chemistry and toxicology and learn about chemical processes, but couldn’t help noticing something else.

As director John Froines and lead investigator Art Cho discussed their latest scientific findings, references to their strong friendship and deep appreciation of working together repeatedly crept into the conversation. When asked separately about personal investments in the Particle Center, each immediately referenced the other.

image of Art Cho speaking“John and I can sit and talk. He’s also an organic chemist… so we can talk in a common language,” Cho said of the pair’s hours-long daily conversations about chemistry and science.

The Particle Center is an air pollution research consortium funded by a multi-million dollar EPA grant. Scientists at the Center are encouraged to work collaboratively to address questions about air pollution exposure that have real world significance, especially in Los Angeles, where the Center is based.

But to these scientists, their work is more than a just a job. Over and over, each emphasized the personal satisfaction gained through years of intellectual partnership.

image of John Friones sitting and speaking“Art Cho is 81. I’m 70. Do you realize the joy that we have, two of us old chemistry codgers, being able to do the science in a multidisciplinary way?” Froines asked, rhetorically.

Cho echoed the sentiment, expressing his enthusiasm with an inescapable air of academia.

“I’m having fun, as it were,” he mused.

At 81, Cho is still working as a full time lead investigator in his UCLA labs. When the subject of potential retirement was broached, Froines jumped in on Cho’s behalf without hesitation,

“Don’t you even…” he warned with a grin, “…that word is forbidden!”

Whoever said research science was an antisocial career path has clearly not met these chemistry vets. As I proceed on my travels, I’ll continue sharing stories of the cast of characters that study the air we breathe.

About the Author: Becky Fried is a student contractor with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research, part of the Office of Research and Development.

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