Microbes, zeolites and diesel oxidation catalysts, along with other scientific topics, are easily explained by Tristan DeBona in words that make the complex understandable.
A biology student at County College of Morris (CCM), DeBona, 28, of Randolph clearly enjoys science and
knows the direction he wants to pursue – a career in scientific research. This summer, he will get to further advance in that direction as CCM’s first intern at BASF, working in one of the research labs at the world’s leading chemical company.
"It's a great opportunity for a former mechanic who enjoys working with his hands,” says DeBona. As he explains, “high school was not a shining time for me,” so he went on to become a car mechanic repairing BMWs and MINI Coopers. Coming home covered in brake dust day after day, however, soon sparked a desire for something more.
Initially, he started at CCM as a music major thinking he would pursue a career with a recording studio. But it was the science bug that eventually won him over.
"A lot of people are afraid of math, technology and science. It’s true; it’s not easy. It’s the most difficult area you can pursue,” says DeBona, whose father is a chemist and mother a lawyer. “There’s a domino effect, however, that takes place once you start learning these areas. You get interested and you want to start learning more. It’s fun.”
Understanding the world of science, DeBona adds, also has enhanced his appreciation of life. “Everyday life makes so much more sense. The behavior of people and systems really does mimic the laws of physics. Knowing that gives you a much greater appreciation for the complexity of the universe.”
At BASF, DeBona will be working with researchers in the automotive catalysts facility, this time focusing on cars from a much different angle.
It’s hardly surprising that among the scientists DeBona most admires is Leonard Susskind, the plumber turned physicist who is widely considered one of the fathers of string theory.
Following his internship, DeBona plans to enroll at Rutgers and major in biotechnology and to go on and
earn his Ph.D. His ultimate goal is to work on industrial and environmental solutions. “I want to do something that has a beneficial impact,” he says.
And those zeolites? DeBona explains, “Think of them like pumice stones. They are porous crystalized solids that are used for such things as the removal of gases and solvents and as catalysts for chemical reactions.”