Coming Ashore

La lune de Nantes

Ma lune.

Playing

Au parc.

Charles river sunset

The Charles River.

Like apple pie.

American Playground.

A great wave of life has swept over me. In its whirling eddies, a hundred images have rushed by. A smirking Nantaise moon, rushing over a last night of merriment, friends now scattered to many tides. Bright sun on spin-roll-kicking feet: capoeira in manicured parks. The dull glare on tile in a Buchenwald basement: too much death there to comprehend. Lightning flashing on four sides of a window of penetrating starlight in the French central mountains. A crystal blue Boston sky splaying out as a trans-atlantic flight washes in with the ebbing tide of travel. And so have I arrived, rinsed and salted and fresh on the beachhead of Boston.

Part of travel is to make home new again. This change of perspective has made me pay attention- to look at things I might have always overlooked. Suddenly the streets, peoples' clothing, the names of things, the odd colors or garish shapes of advertisements demand observation. It was riveting for weeks, and still is in bursts, this urge for awareness. How American things look, I thought. It is good to be back from France, though staying there would be good, too. I'll call it another door opened during my time at Olin: francophone lands are now within reach, overseas living a viable possibility. I can see the steps to take and anticipate the wash of emotions, going and coming. I'm sure I will leave again, though today I can only guess at the permanence of such a departure. At present, I'm very occupied by Boston living, playing the yuppy as a summer intern, nursing a bank account much abused by foreign fun and exchange rates.

My place of employment this summer is a compelling one. In a flurry of activity some months ago now, I found, interviewed for, and got a job as the Engineering Intern at Verenium Corporation in Cambridge. I applied because they're a front runner in one of my favorite next-gen biofuels- cellulosic ethanol. I was convinced I wanted to be there, however, by the some 4 hours of Skype-facilitated interviews I managed to pull off from France. This convincing had something to do with my boss, VP of engineering John Doyle. His perspective from 10 years inside this new technology, of working towards a bold potential long met by skeptical audiences, sounded like something I could learn alot from. Six weeks after starting, I'm working a myriad of projects spun off from the activities of the Engineering and Construction group at Verenium's Cambridge office. The company has all the vigor, promise and pressure of a start up, the "aggressive" and often overlapping milestones of an all out drive to develop a technology that they've got a shot at being the first to nail down. But at the same time, it's an organization large and complex enough to expose me to the intricacies of a dense network of working relationships, procedures, and management techniques. It's a fresh take on creation, a new step in the idea-to-impact process that I'm getting to see up close.

Pre-ethanol.

Pre-ethanol.

Live oak

If we could see the roots, this live oak would look a verdant orb.

I suppose my Olin experience has made it seem less surprising that I be unexpectedly sent to Verenium's Pilot Plant in Jennings, Louisiana for on-site, hands-on work learning. The more I get to know my collegues, the smoother the day-to-day experience and the more confident my stride. So far, I've done some mundane work and some challenging work. I've been exposed to a massive influx of how's and why's for an industrial process in mid-invention. I try to keep asking quality questions along the way, keep observing, and foster the same re-entry awareness that pervaded my return from France. It has been satisfying to focus myself on this experience, to be applied after some months of wandering. Now at the half way mark, I'm lining up the more specific (and more ambitious) projects to finish out this last undergrad summer.

Every week I track down another long-lost comrade, and many of them being from Olin keeps the thought of return, and the finality of senior year, crouched somewhere in the back of my mind. I'll be ready for my last shot at soaking up the place, being a simultaneous contributor and product.

The good news for my French? The word on the O-street is that we'll be welcoming a couple of French exchange students this fall. Here's to taking your travels home with you. Allons-y.

-Bennett

Boston skyline

The view from Verenium, Cambridge office.

The Verenium Demonstration Plant.

The view from Verenium, Louisiana "office."

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