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Dr. Darryl Boyd is a Research Chemist in the Optical Sciences Division of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. He is also the STEM Director at the Transformational Education Adventure Center in McLean, VA, as well as the STEM instructor for Roots Charter School in Washington, DC. He received his B.S. degree in Chemistry from the University of Michigan. Next, he attended Purdue University where he was awarded his M.S. in Biochemistry and Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry and Electrochemistry. Afterwards, Dr. Boyd began working as a National Research Council Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Naval Research Laboratory, and he accepted a position as a Research Chemist there in 2014. Dr. Boyd has received many awards and honors throughout his career, including an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, a Jerome & Isabella Karle Research Fellow from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Lloyd N. Ferguson Young Scientist Award from the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers, and an Edison Patent Award from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. He was also named among the “Talented 12” of 2018 by the American Chemical Society’s Chemical & Engineering News magazine and a 2019 Rising Researcher in Defense and Commercial Sensing by The International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE). In our interview, Dr. Boyd will share more about his life and research.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (2:53)
When he’s not doing science, Dr. Boyd enjoys writing, playing his trumpet or saxophone, working out at the gym, and spending time at church. He and his wife also love hanging out with their young daughter who is less than a year old.
The Scientific Side (5:19)
As a synthetic chemist, Dr. Boyd creates new molecules and materials. His work focuses on developing and studying materials that can transmit infrared light, particularly materials that leverage the unique properties of the element sulfur. By looking through these materials, we can see wavelengths of light that are longer than what we can detect with our eyes alone. Dr. Boyd is also dedicated to outreach and getting students excited about STEM.
A Dose of Motivation (8:42)
Nothing is easy, and everything matters.
What Got You Hooked on Science? (15:19)
Through participating in a program called Hands-On Science, Dr. Boyd had an opportunity to explore science from an early age. In this program, Dr. Boyd and his siblings learned about biology, chemistry, physics, and computer science, and they had a chance to meet scientists from local companies and universities. In addition, Dr. Boyd was a curious kid. He remembers playing with a remote control toy car and wondering why the battery became less efficient over time. Unfortunately, Dr. Boyd also lost several important people in his life when they passed away from diseases like cancer. This fueled his interest in doing research to better understand and fight cancer. Dr. Boyd was skilled in chemistry in high school, and he decided to pursue chemistry in college. As an undergraduate student, Dr. Boyd had the opportunity to get involved in research by working in the laboratory of one of his professors, and this experience launched his research career.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (27:37)
During Dr. Boyd’s PhD research, he worked on a project that required him to synthesize a compound and separate it out from the byproducts of the reaction. After spending about two years working on this project, he still could not get it to work. Dr. Boyd was devastated when his advisor took him off the project. He was convinced that if he had a little more time, he could get it to work. In hindsight, Dr. Boyd’s advisor made the right decision. The new project Dr. Boyd started was wildly successful, he published three papers from this work, and he was able to finish his PhD dissertation. In science, it is important to learn from your disappointments and failures and to recognize that moving on isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In the end, switching to a new project worked out really well for him.
A Shining Success! (32:14)
Dr. Boyd developed a new polymer material that transmitted infrared light, and it was generally accepted at the time that materials like this one would only transmit light up to a particular wavelength. After he made the material, he had to choose what data he would collect on its properties. While he could have just collected data up to the wavelength that was generally believed to be the threshold for light that could be transmitted, Dr. Boyd decided to take a more comprehensive approach. He collected the full range of data that he could collect, and he was surprised to see that it appeared that the material he made was able to transmit light with wavelengths longer than what they expected. Dr. Boyd was thrilled when a second experiment using sophisticated cameras in the lab confirmed his results. Their paper on this project was the first time it had ever been demonstrated that a polymer this thick could transmit light at the longer wavelengths that they measured.
Book Recommendations (35:12)
The Road from Money: A Journey to Find Why? by Sylvester Boyd Jr. and The Road from Money: The Journey Continues by Sylvester Boyd Jr.
Most Treasured Travel (37:48)
In 2014, Dr. Boyd attended a polymer conference held in Cancun, Mexico. It took a lot of paperwork for him to travel internationally as a federal employee, but it was all worth it. Many of the most prominent polymer chemists were there, and the conference was excellent. It was exciting as a relatively early career scientist to have the opportunity to present a poster and give a talk to an audience of leaders in the field. This trip was also particularly memorable because Dr. Boyd’s girlfriend traveled with him. She enjoyed time on the beach while he was at the conference, and he planned a romantic engagement proposal as well. She said yes, and they are happy to be celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary this year!
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (42:03)
In the lab at Purdue University where Dr. Boyd completed his master’s degree, they had a fun tradition for students who passed the exam to qualify as a degree candidate. The lab would pick out a bottle of wine and enjoy it together to celebrate. Afterwards, the successful student would draw on the bottle of wine, write their name and the date, and place the bottle on a shelf in the lab. Dr. Boyd was happy to see his bottle was still there in the lab when he went there to visit a few years ago.
Advice For Us All (45:41)
Don’t mess up. When you have an opportunity, make the most of that opportunity, particularly opportunities to continue learning. The knowledge you gain may help you later in ways you may not realize now. Once you reach your goal, keep working hard to maintain the success and respect you have garnered. Also, just finish. In science, it can be easy to get bogged down in the details. Don’t lose focus or lose sight of your goal. Try your best to keep your eye on the prize and reach your goal the best you can while maintaining your mental and physical health.
Dr. Boyd’s research interests include aspects of polymer chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and materials science. Much of his research focuses on fabricating materials with, and/or modifying materials to have, unique infrared optical transmittance properties. In addition to the honors listed above, Dr. Boyd was recently recognized by Purdue University’s College of Science as a 2020 Distinguished Alumni. Independent of his research job, for years Dr. Boyd has volunteered throughout the country, introducing grade school children to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). This includes his science-focused YouTube Channel. He now performs these efforts through his company “Science Made Simple LLC.” When the 2020 coronavirus pandemic hit, Dr. Boyd aired 6-weeks of free, daily live-streamed science lessons on Instagram and Facebook, in order to assist students and parents who were unexpectedly thrust into homeschooling. These videos can now be found on his YouTube Channel. Finally, Dr. Boyd has several very serious hobbies which include writing, playing instruments such as the trumpet and saxophone, and working out. He also spends as much time as he can at home with his wonderful wife and daughter.