SEARCH UNIVERSITY LIBRARIES
February 21, 2023
Liquid Crystal Oral History Project
Department of History
Kent State University
Transcript produced by Sharp Copy Transcription
DR. MATTHEW CRAWFORD: My name is Matthew Crawford. I'm a Historian of Science and Associate Professor of History at Kent State University. Today is February 21st, 2023, and I am interviewing Dr. Anne Schenz, over the phone, in my office in the Department of History at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. Dr. Schenz, thanks for agreeing to speak with me today.
DR. ANNE SCHENZ: You’re very welcome.
CRAWFORD: I understand that you are currently retired and have been for some time. Prior to retirement, what was your last professional title and institutional affiliation or place of employment?
SCHENZ: My last appointment, I worked at Abbott Laboratories. I was the Senior Group Leader of the Flavor Technology area.
CRAWFORD: Thank you. How would you identify yourself as a scientist and your field of research? What do you call yourself, as a scientist?
SCHENZ: I guess I was more involved in the management aspect rather than the actual hands-on research part, myself. My last task at Abbott, they hired me really to create a Flavor Technology area, so that was kind of starting from scratch. My General Foods background really gave me the wherewithal to be able to do that.
CRAWFORD: Towards the end of your career, when you were working at Abbott, you were more in managing scientific work rather than working at the lab bench yourself?
SCHENZ: Yes. I would say I spent maybe an hour a day being part of tasting various products, because that was what was involved with flavor. But more, it was managing.
CRAWFORD: When you were doing science, would you identify yourself as a chemist—something along those lines—or like a food scientist?
SCHENZ: My training really was physical chemistry, so I would identify myself with that. The food science aspect of it really came as on-the-job training. My first job in the food industry, they actually wanted somebody who was a physical chemist, for that particular position.
CRAWFORD: Why would they want in particular a physical chemist?
SCHENZ: My first job in the food industry was with General Foods, and it was part of the Texture group. But they were interested in the texture of liquids, which is called beverage mouthfeel. Now, General Foods makes Tang, and Kool-Aid, and Country Time Lemonade, but they wanted Tang to feel like orange juice—
SCHENZ: —which sounds simple, but really is very complex.
CRAWFORD: [laughs] Great. For someone who might not know, what does physical chemistry refer to, generally?
SCHENZ: Physical chemistry is kind of where physics and chemistry meet. I always, always like to know why this happens. When I started to take physical chemistry, it was like, “Oh! Somebody is finally telling me why things happen.” So, it was just like my mind did a shift. It was just really neat.
CRAWFORD: Would you say it’s like using physics to explain chemical phenomena?
SCHENZ: Yes, it’s some of that. You get to think about things on the molecular level, and what is happening. How are atoms and molecules structured? You get into mathematics. You get into group theory. There’s just all kinds of neat stuff to study.
CRAWFORD: Great. I definitely want to circle back and talk more about your work at General Foods and in food science and so forth, but I’d like to start at the beginning. I was wondering if you could tell us what year you were born, where you grew up, and what your early childhood was like.
SCHENZ: I was born in 1945. I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania called Sharpsville, for which the main industry was steelmaking, and my dad worked for a steel mill. I forget what your second question was.
CRAWFORD: What your early childhood was like. Your dad worked for a steel mill. What about your mom?
SCHENZ: My mom was definitely a homemaker. I was the oldest of three daughters, and I had the experiences of whatever the oldest had. I imagine I was sort of spoiled. I don’t really remember. I do remember when my first sister was born and thinking, “Hmm. Wonder when they're going to send her back.”
SCHENZ: But I was very fortunate. It was a small town. It was a quiet street. We were able to play outside even in the street and not worry about people. Had really generous grandparents, so I had a bicycle at an early age, and just things like that.
CRAWFORD: Is Sharpsville located in western Pennsylvania?
SCHENZ: Yes, it’s in western Pennsylvania. The nearest large town is Sharon, Pennsylvania, which you may have heard of.
CRAWFORD: Yes. Great. Were you interested in science as a kid?
SCHENZ: You had mentioned that before, and I started to think back. I got really interested in astronomy toward the end of elementary school and into junior high. I asked for and got a planetarium for Christmas, and then I got a telescope. My dad rigged up a tripod for me, and I could actually go out and look at the Moon and various planets. So, I was just—I don’t know, that just really caught my attention.
CRAWFORD: What was it that drew you in, do you think?
SCHENZ: I have no idea. It just really tickled my fancy. I really got interested in it. Some of it I think was, as you study the constellations, then there’s all this Greek mythology that’s related to it. I remember I had gotten a mythology book for Christmas, and so I could see connections there, and stories, to what’s going on in the sky. And I always loved to read, above all things. Put something down in front of me, and I’m reading it.
CRAWFORD: [laughs] You said your parents got a telescope and a planetarium for you. Did they generally encourage your interest in science, would you say?
SCHENZ: Well, up to a point. Because I had my heart set on becoming an astronomer, and at one point, they sat me down and said, “Well, your grades in math aren’t that good. We don’t think you have what it takes to be an astronomer. So maybe you need to think about teaching.” So, I went to college, majored in chemistry, also took education courses, and went to summer school to do that, and ended up teaching high school for a year. And—that really wasn’t for me, either. But the interesting thing was, as soon as I got away from just plain old arithmetic, my grades in math just went much, much higher. Math remains a big love of mine.
CRAWFORD: Why do you think that was, that your grades improved once you got away from arithmetic, as you said?
SCHENZ: Boy, I’d like to be able to tell you I know. I really don’t know. Algebra made sense. My dad spent countless hours with me. I just wanted to be able to do all the problems. That was just a thing. So, he would work with me. Then I’d get back to class the next day. He would work out the problems, and he would explain it to me, and then I could put it down. And then when I would get to class, the teacher would say, “Okay, did anybody get problem number ten?” My dad and I were the only ones that had problem number ten. “Okay, so go to the board and write it down.” So at least I understood, but it was just like, “I’ve got to find the answer. I’ve got to find the answer.”
CRAWFORD: [laughs] I know you mentioned your dad worked at a steel mill. Did he have a job that required him to use mathematics or scientific reasoning or anything like that?
SCHENZ: He had studied at Penn State and graduated—I think maybe his degree was in metallurgy. I was just always fascinated by that. At one point, he took us and some other folks through the steel mill just to watch it happening, and it was amazing. Actually, one summer, I was fortunate enough to work in the chemistry lab in the steel mill—
SCHENZ: —testing raw materials. I had already had analytical chemistry in college, so I knew how to weigh things. I knew how to do analyses and everything. The only girl! All these older gentlemen who I suspect now spoiled me rotten. They were just—they were very gracious, and I learned a lot.
CRAWFORD: [laughs] I can imagine! What do you think it was that fascinated you about the steel mill, or the experience of going there?
SCHENZ: Well, when you tour through, there are areas of the various raw materials, so you see the coal, and the coke, and the iron ore, and the limestone. Then there are these trace minerals that they add to make steel have certain qualities to it. So, it was just—okay, so you see them putting all this stuff together. Then you go past the blast furnace; you're not getting really close. Then you actually see them rolling out the hot steel, which is molten orange, and then forming it. My dad was the superintendent of the cold roll division. That is, once it’s cooled down, then they're doing more fine-tuning of the steel. For years, Sharon Steel was the only company that made steel for helmets for the Armed Forces. They also made specialty steels for Imperial Knives and like the trim on American Tourister Luggage, when it used to be this lovely stainless steel trim.
CRAWFORD: Wow! [laughs]
SCHENZ: It was neat, to see it from the beginning to how it was used in the final product.
CRAWFORD: Seeing the whole process, and transformation of the materials, and so forth.
CRAWFORD: I know you already started talking a little bit about your experience with science in college and so forth. Did you have any experiences in science in high school? Did you have any opportunities to work in chemistry or something like that at your high school?
SCHENZ: Oh, yeah. I took physics in eleventh grade, and I really liked physics. I thought, “Oh, gee, I think I’ll make this my major.” Then in my senior year, I took chemistry, and it was like, “Oh my goodness. This is it. This is it.” I can remember having a study hall at the end of the day and working on problems. One of my fellow students leaned over and said, “You really like this stuff, don’t you?” I don’t even know how she could tell, but I must have really been into it. All of a sudden, it made sense. It made sense. I love things that make sense.
CRAWFORD: Why do you think chemistry made sense for you, more than, say, physics did, or some other science?
SCHENZ: There were things I think that could be quantified. You could write down formulas. You could solve equations. You're mixing x and y, and coming up with z. We need to balance out everything. Does that work? Then doing experiments in the lab. Because I don’t know what we were doing one day, and somebody came up to me and said, “You're really excited about this, aren’t you?” [laughs] I said, “Well, yeah!” You were doing stuff. You were making things of different colors. It was just a multisensory experience. Some of it not so pleasant.
CRAWFORD: [laughs] So it’s kind of the experience of it, but also the mathematics side a little bit, those things coming together, it sounds like.
SCHENZ: Yes. Good way to put it, Matt.
CRAWFORD: You went to college at Westminster College, I believe, in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania?
CRAWFORD: How did you end up at Westminster? Was that your first choice? Why did you decide to go there?
SCHENZ: A couple of reasons. Yes, it was very much a choice. It was, I want to say, 15 miles from home. I didn’t really want to be too far away. It was a Presbyterian school, and I had grown up Presbyterian. My mom had been able to hear some of the professors speak and had been impressed. I had heard some of them, too, actually. Bible courses were required. They are no longer, which hurts my heart. And we had required chapel. Oh, and the other thing was, I had gotten a scholarship from Sharon Steel, which was where my dad worked, for—at the time, it was a lot of money—$3,000, for the four years.
CRAWFORD: Wow, yeah.
SCHENZ: All of those things. Plus, then I wasn’t very far from home, either. I was fortunate enough I don’t think I ever did my own laundry. I think I used to go home on the weekends and my mom would spoil me.
CRAWFORD: [laughs] This scholarship you got from Sharon Steel, how did you earn that scholarship?
SCHENZ: I must have had to take a test. I honestly can’t remember. If they just looked at my SAT scores, if they looked at the National Merit stuff? I don’t remember.
CRAWFORD: You've given us a little sense of what made Westminster College attractive to you as a school. What were your goals for your undergraduate career when you were there? It sounds like you came in knowing you wanted to major in chemistry. Is that correct?
SCHENZ: Yes. I definitely knew that. I knew I had to take education courses because my folks thought that was a good idea. And actually, it’s a good fallback for anything, and I was able to use it a few times. The teaching also helps you think in a way that’s not—I want to say—not selfish. It’s like, “Okay, I understand this. How can I help persons A, B, and C also understand this, when maybe we're not speaking the same language?” So it just kind of gave me a breadth of thinking about stuff.
CRAWFORD: You said as an undergraduate, you studied chemistry. You also studied education. And you did some student teaching. Is that correct?
CRAWFORD: Was that in science? Were you teaching chemistry?
SCHENZ: Yes. I had done most of my education courses in summer school, at least for the first couple years. To do the student teaching was also in summer school. It was in Youngstown, Ohio, I think. I had all kinds of students. There were people who wanted to get this requirement out of the way and so were taking it in summer school. There were other people that were remedial. So it was a real range of people. That was hard. It was good, I think, in the long run, because it did help me with other teaching, but it was probably not the best student teaching experience that could be offered.
CRAWFORD: Because of the range of students, basically.
SCHENZ: The range of students. And, boy, how do I deal with this range of students when I’m talking about this sort of technical stuff?
CRAWFORD: It’s a real challenge.
CRAWFORD: It sounded like you were saying before that by the end of your undergraduate career—and correct me if I’m wrong—you were pretty clear that you didn’t want to pursue a career in teaching. Is that correct?
SCHENZ: After I taught high school for the first year—actually, in the middle of that teaching, my now-husband had an interview at Kent, with Dr. Glenn Brown. I went along with him. We met at what was then the Robin Hood Café and had lunch. Dr. Brown said to me, “What about you? You want to go to school?” I thought, “Hmm. Well, maybe a master’s—” I was really not thinking PhD at that point. I kind of had another mind shift and thought, “Well, why not?”
CRAWFORD: This interview with Dr. Glenn Brown, when was this? Around 1968 or so?
SCHENZ: Yes. It would have been 1968, I think.
CRAWFORD: I’m just curious, did he mention liquid crystals to you at that time? Do you remember? [laughs]
SCHENZ: I don’t remember. When you talk to my husband, he may remember, because really the interview was with him, and I just—I don’t know why I decided to go along. I don’t know whether he had mentioned something to Dr. Brown, or we just took the liberty. I’m not sure.
CRAWFORD: Going back to your undergraduate career, I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about your experience being a chemistry major at Westminster. You could talk about any particular courses that stand out, or if you had any research experiences. I just wonder if you could give us a sense of what it was like to study chemistry at the college level in the mid-1960s.
SCHENZ: I started out with general chemistry, and I think there were about 80 people in the class.
SCHENZ: I was kind of astounded at that, only to find out later that if you were a physics major, you had to take freshman chemistry. There were a lot of people who were studying nursing, had to take freshman chemistry. Et cetera. I had a wonderful professor for that. Then, sophomore year, there were like ten of us.
SCHENZ: So it was many fewer, when you actually get down to chemistry majors. There were some courses where sophomores and juniors and seniors, even, were all in the same class, because they didn’t offer everything every single time, but you sort of had to do things in order.
CRAWFORD: I have to ask, even if it was such a small major, were there other female students also majoring in chemistry?
SCHENZ: There were a few. There was a woman who graduated who was a senior when I was a freshman. Then I think I might have been the only woman for a while. Then later, there were one or two.
CRAWFORD: Was that challenging at all, to be one of the only female chemistry majors?
SCHENZ: I don’t remember it being challenging. I don’t remember being made to feel less-than, ever.
CRAWFORD: Did you have experiences beyond taking courses? Did you have the opportunity to do research or work with a faculty member as a research assistant or anything like that?
SCHENZ: No. This was a very small college, and they weren’t really offering that until—my husband was able to do an independent study. He started a year after me. So he had the opportunity to do that, but I didn’t. They weren’t offering that at the time. You could be what they called a lab proctor, which is sort of a student person that would be in the lab all the time if the professor wasn’t going to be there all the time, and you wandered around and answered questions and helped out. So I did do that.
CRAWFORD: Oh, okay. So, part of the education though included lab work as part of a class or something like that?
SCHENZ: Oh, yes. There was always lab work. We were a small department, but we really got close, because we were all in it together, and you were working hours and hours and hours together. And sometimes things work out, and sometimes stuff doesn't.
CRAWFORD: Right. [laughs] Do you have a favorite course or a favorite experience in one of your science courses from your time at Westminster?
SCHENZ: I would say it was physical chemistry. Just taking the class and seeing how—I don’t know, it was just like, “Somebody’s finally telling me why things happen.” It just sang for me. I remember—my husband and I were in the same class, because he was able to—he was a year later, but he had had two years of chemistry in high school, so he was able to skip freshman chemistry, so we were in analytical and organic and physical chemistry together. My senior year and his junior year, all we did when we went out was work on p-chem problems. And it was actually a very lovely way to build a relationship. Somehow, if you understood something, or if he didn’t understand something, I might be able to have a clue, and vice versa. Our thinking seemed to be kind of complementary.
CRAWFORD: It sounds like you had this mutual learning experience, being able to help each other understand problems and things like that.
CRAWFORD: Were there any particular faculty or mentors from this time period that stand out to you?
SCHENZ: Well, we loved our p-chem teacher. He was just amazing. He could leave you in the dust. Nobody could write equations on the board faster than Dr. Warrick. It was just like one guy sitting behind me said: “We just pray for rain, in case his chalk is going to catch on fire!”
CRAWFORD: [laughs] You said his name was Dr. Warrick?
SCHENZ: Yes, Percy Warrick. W-A-R-R—I want to say I-C-K, I think.
CRAWFORD: Okay, Dr. Percy Warrick. In addition to being able to write equations quickly, was there anything in particular about his teaching or interactions that you connected with?
SCHENZ: He was just good at explaining things. He was good at explaining things. I don’t know how to say this—he would tell you enough, and then you could piece together. He wouldn't spoon-feed you—that’s what I’m trying to say—but he would help you over the rough spots.
CRAWFORD: That’s great. Did you ever talk to him or any of the other professors about pursuing a career in chemistry?
SCHENZ: I don’t think so. I think maybe they knew that I was taking education courses, too.
CRAWFORD: I know you mentioned that you went with your husband to this meeting with Dr. Brown. Did you ever consider pursuing a career in science as an undergraduate? Did you ever think about going on to graduate school or maybe industry, after you finished your degree?
SCHENZ: Not really! I think I had been stopped by my parents’ comment about not being good enough in math so I couldn't be an astronomer. I didn’t go past that to think, “But, oh, maybe I could be something else.” Or all of a sudden, now I’m really [laughs] better than I thought I would be at it. So it was just kind of a, “Well, gee, sure. I could go to school.” We both were able to get teaching assistantships at Kent and live in married student housing. We were really financially better off than most of the people that lived in married student housing, because we had two salaries coming in. We weren’t living high off the hog, but still, we had enough to survive.
CRAWFORD: I wonder if you could talk a little bit more, then, about your decision to come to Kent State to pursue a PhD in Chemistry. What made you decide to do that?
SCHENZ: I think the fact that I was really not very crazy about my teaching job, and this seemed like a new opportunity. And, why not? Give it a try. I thought, “Well, I can go for a master’s.” Then once I had completed the work for what would have been considered a master’s, it was like, “Well, might as well finish this up!”
CRAWFORD: [laughs] What year was it when you started at Kent State? I know you received your PhD in 1974, but when did you start at Kent State?
SCHENZ: We started in 1968. We were crazy people. Tim graduated from college in June. We got married a week later.
CRAWFORD: Oh, wow.
SCHENZ: He worked for the City of Akron for the summer. Then we moved to married student housing and we started graduate school in September.
CRAWFORD: Wow. [laughs] Quite a summer. [laughs]
SCHENZ: It was quite a summer. I mean, it didn’t really feel strange at the time. Everybody that lived in married student housing, somebody in the household was going to school, so we were all working like crazy, and studying. I think about it now, and I think, “Well, that was crazy.” But, it worked.
CRAWFORD: What was it like being at Kent State in the late 1960s?
SCHENZ: Well, of course we were there for 1970. It—my mother deplored of it. We would get clothes on sale at the bookstore. I still have a Kent State shirt, a KSU shirt, a gray one. My mother said they looked like miners’ underwear. And, you know, we all wore jeans. We all had these crummy t-shirts. You're working in chemistry; you're not going to wear your best clothes, generally, for that. We were really in one building, at Kent, and that was Williams Hall, the Chemistry building. I had a couple of courses in the Physics building next door, but that was really it. We really kind of had a small college experience in a large college. I mean, we knew everybody in the Chemistry Department.
CRAWFORD: The Department was fairly small, and the community of graduate students was fairly small as well.
SCHENZ: Was fairly small. I’m just trying to think—I don’t know, 40 to 60 people?
CRAWFORD: I guess I should ask about 1970, May 4th, since you were here. What was that experience like for you? What was your experience of that event?
SCHENZ: I almost have to back up a day or two, because we knew something was going on. We went to church on Sunday, and we kind of drove around, and we could see tanks, parked, on the street. It was like, “Well, okay, I guess this is serious.” We really had no idea what was happening until we saw it on the news with Walter Cronkite that night.
CRAWFORD: Oh, wow.
SCHENZ: This is no cell phones. This is no email. This is regular telephones. And we had a friend who had a husband who was working, somehow, in the administration; I don’t remember. She finally heard from him and he explained what was going on. But there were riots downtown. There were people marching. It was not the greatest time.
CRAWFORD: I wonder, what was it like to learn about that from watching it on television? That must have been kind of surreal.
SCHENZ: It was. It didn’t quite feel real, even. Our neighbor, the woman had been out shopping that day, in her Volkswagen, with her young son. They put a curfew in, and they wouldn't let her back in to the apartment. She drove across a cornfield, with her baby, to get back home!
SCHENZ: Then that night, helicopters just circled, over and over and over. It was just—you really weren’t getting much sleep done.
CRAWFORD: Sure, sure. It certainly sounds quite intense, quite disruptive. What effect did it have on your education? Did it have a large impact on doing your graduate work?
SCHENZ: Of course, it was in the middle of the semester. I think we had another month or so to go. The professors were giving classes either in their homes, or in churches.
SCHENZ: So, we would do that, and that was very gracious of them. Then the professors of the very large classes were traveling to Cleveland, or to Pittsburgh, I think, to give lectures, for like maybe freshman chemistry or larger classes.
CRAWFORD: Oh, wow.
SCHENZ: Because we all wanted to finish up. We all wanted to finish up.
CRAWFORD: You were still taking courses at that time?
CRAWFORD: Were you working as a teaching assistant as well?
SCHENZ: Yes. I would have been doing that all along. We were either in a lab or doing what they called the recitations. For freshmen who had questions, they were like quiz sections. You could go and ask your questions, and we could answer things. Since I had teaching background, that worked out fine for me.
CRAWFORD: Yeah, I’m sure. I want to now get back to a little bit talking about your graduate work in chemistry. You came to Kent State thinking, “Maybe I’ll just do a master’s.” Who did you decide to work with and what was the focus of your master’s degree in terms of research?
SCHENZ: First I thought I wanted to do quantum chemistry, so I started to work with Dr. Debbie Tuan. That just didn’t seem to work out well. Then I was looking again, and I talked to Dr. Vernon Neff, who then became my PhD advisor. He was in the Physical Chemistry department but working with liquid crystals. The guy next door was I think John Reed, who was a crystallographer and was doing things with liquid crystals. So, it was very convenient to do that. He talked about Faraday rotation and magnetic optical rotation, and he had this idea for using a polarimeter, and then a magnet, et cetera. Which sounds simple, except I had to build the equipment.
SCHENZ: Or, take an existing polarimeter, separate it so that then we could get a magnet to put in the middle, so that I could measure the effects of the magnetic field. By the time we got that constructed, he said, “Well, you've done enough work to get a master’s, just with assembling this and getting it to be able to work.” So then I went on to do—I had to purify my own chemical, to be able to have something that was pure enough to do good measurements on. So, he had a contact in—what was it?—the Bureau of Mines? We went and borrowed a zone refiner from them. So, went a little bit far afield, but it was a good experience of, if you don’t have what you want, maybe you can have a contact that actually can provide something for you.
CRAWFORD: I wonder if you could just explain a little bit more about the research that you were doing. You said something about measuring the effects of a magnetic field. Was that on liquid crystals, or other materials?
SCHENZ: Yes. Started—in the various stages. Starting with a liquid, and then in the liquid crystal phase. We also had to build like a little oven in the middle of this, where the temperature could be controlled very carefully, to watch as it went through the various phases. And, had the gentleman in the—well, he had his office in the Physics building, but he really—he built things. He built this specific sample holder for me. When I went with my original plan to him—“Well, this isn’t going to work. Let me tell you what it should be.”
SCHENZ: And what it should be was much better, than what I had originally thought. So that was Mr. Norton, and he was somethin’ else!
CRAWFORD: Was he a faculty member, or was he—I don’t know what the term for it would be—like a research engineer or something like that? Somebody who provided technical assistance?
SCHENZ: I don’t know whether he was in charge of—I don’t even know what his title would have been. But if you wanted a piece of equipment built, he’s the one you went to. He primarily—well, did he just do metal? I don’t think so. I think he did other things, too. But it was metal that I was interested in.
CRAWFORD: You said you had to build a special kind of polarimeter for this work. I wonder if you could just explain what a polarimeter is, what it’s for, and then how you had to customize one, or change the design of it, for this work you were doing.
SCHENZ: Well, a polarimeter measures the angle of rotation when you shine a light through a substance. A substance has a unique amount of rotation power that it can have. That becomes one of the things that you can measure about a particular compound. The thing about liquid crystals is, they're not just all one thing. They're solid, they're liquid crystal, then they move to liquid. Dr. Neff was wondering, “What happens to the optical rotation?” Then there’s this quality called Faraday rotation, which is elements or compounds that aren’t normally optically active will rotate the plane of polarized light once a magnetic field is placed there. It’s a unique thing for that particular chemical. So, I didn’t actually have to build a polarimeter; there was one in existence. We just had to take it apart so that I could put a little oven and a magnet in the middle, and be able to then apply a magnetic field and measure the different temperatures for it.
CRAWFORD: I see.
SCHENZ: I’m just trying to think now. I dug out my dissertation. I wonder if I was good enough to do a diagram in it, of what the thing actually—oh, see, here is sort of—well, there are some just rough schematics of what the—
CRAWFORD: Oh, yeah? In your dissertation?
SCHENZ: Yes, in the dissertation.
CRAWFORD: We might be able to include some of those images with the transcript.
SCHENZ: Okay, yeah. I dug it out. I thought, “Gee, I should probably check and see what I actually did write before I talk to you.
SCHENZ: It took a while to get it to come back! It has been a while, you know, Matt!
CRAWFORD: Yes. [laughs] It sounds like you were using these materials that had liquid crystal phases and looking at the effects of magnetic field. I’m just curious, what did you find were the effects? Or what were the findings?
SCHENZ: Well, let me see, if I actually wrote—I guess there must be an abstract in here.
SCHENZ: Okay! So—determined magnetic rotation. Rotation difficult to measure, and then nematic phase because of birefringence due to incomplete alignment. And there’s a constant that you can calculate called a Verdet constant, which has to do with the magnetic field. Then, I assume the folks in the organic department had done—I was able to measure seven alkyl homologs of MBBA, to see what the effects were. Then we also talk about pre-transition effect, in cholesteryl esters. Let me see. They’re talking about rotation in the blue texture, and I don’t even remember what that is, to tell you the truth.
SCHENZ: But, yes, you did see differences when you went through the different phases, and as you looked at the different homologs, things behaved sort of the way you expected them to behave.
CRAWFORD: I know you said that this was a problem that Dr. Neff was working on and interested in. Is that essentially how you came to the topic? He sort of gave it to you? Or was this something you developed in collaboration with him?
SCHENZ: He had the general idea. Then when it came to the nitty-gritty of how can we do this, and how can we make it work, then that was me. Actually, and my husband, who was more the mechanical guy and construction guy, but we could put stuff together.
CRAWFORD: Was it difficult to build this customized polarimeter? Was that challenging? Did you enjoy doing that?
SCHENZ: It definitely was challenging, because you have to be super aligned. If you're going to produce data that is trustworthy, then you have to verify that it’s good. We finally were able to borrow a laser to use, to make sure that we were aligned properly. Because this had been one unit, which we took apart, so that I could put this special oven and magnet in there, and then realign it. Because if you're not aligned properly, then you're not getting good measurements.
CRAWFORD: What do you mean by “aligned properly”? Could you explain that?
SCHENZ: The original polarimeter is all lined up so that the light that goes through is designed to go through the sample and then give you a readout. If you're taking the instrument apart to put something in the middle, then you need to realign it, otherwise the data that you get from it is just going to be mush.
CRAWFORD: A polarimeter, what kind of readout does it give you?
SCHENZ: It will give you an optical activity. They have different kinds of polarimeters, but if you're just doing it by eye, they either show you like two halves of a circle that you need to match up to get the very same color, and then you read out on the dial what that optical activity is.
CRAWFORD: What is the measurement of optical activity? What’s the units of that?
SCHENZ: I’m thinking it’s degrees? You're talking to somebody for whom this is now ancient history!
SCHENZ: Magnetic rotation. Ah, here, I need Appendix 2, Raw Data. Okay. So, I have temperatures, I have rotations, and then calculating a specific rotation, which is in degrees per centimeter. Wow, looking at my data—a lot of work.
CRAWFORD: What’s it like looking at your dissertation now after—
SCHENZ: Lots of years.
CRAWFORD: —more than 40 years, yeah.
SCHENZ: Wow. I feel like I need to be re-educated, with it. I skimmed through, and I thought, “Boy, there was a time when I could just talk about this without even looking at the book.” There’s no way I’m there now.
CRAWFORD: I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about what it was like to work with Dr. Neff as a mentor and an advisor.
SCHENZ: He was good. He would advise when asked, but he wouldn't hover. I would go to him periodically with the results and say, “What about this?” or “What about that?” So then that would set me off again.
CRAWFORD: I presume he had a lab group, with other grad students and stuff? Did you all work in the same lab, in the same room, or were you spread out?
SCHENZ: We were sometimes sort of in the same room. But our class, our entering class, had a number of people from Taiwan who did not speak good English. They really made a mistake by putting a good many of them together in one room, so they didn’t really have to speak English. There was one gentleman in Dr. Neff’s lab that I really got to know well. He had—actually all the Taiwanese—had the textbooks kind of like with Chinese on one side, and English on the other. Dr. Neff named this guy “Max.” It was Max Chang. He would say, “Okay, now what does this mean?” So I would often work with him on English. “Okay, this is why it’s structured this way, and this is what it means.” “Ohhh.” So [laughs], I did some of that. Tim also had a Chinese guy that actually we're still in touch with, in his lab on surface chemistry. We got close to him and had him over for dinner a few times. But it was a different sort of thing. We had a neighbor two doors down that was in the biochemistry area, but really you were working much more closely with the people who were in your specific research area or next door.
CRAWFORD: Are you saying all the physical chemistry grad students are really interacting with each other the most?
CRAWFORD: That makes sense. What about the Liquid Crystal Institute? Did you have a lot of interactions with the Institute as a graduate student?
SCHENZ: No! Hardly at all. I did all my work at Williams Hall. The compounds that I worked on were all liquid crystals and had different aspects to their behavior because they were liquid crystals, but no, I wasn’t at the Institute at all.
CRAWFORD: Did you get the liquid crystal compounds from the Organic Synthesis Group at the LCI, or did you get them from somewhere else?
SCHENZ: I assume. I honestly don’t remember, Matt.
CRAWFORD: From what I understand from talking to other people, at this time when you were a graduate student, the Liquid Crystal Institute was still housed in the Lincoln Building, off campus, and it sounds like it was fairly isolated from the academic departments, anyway. Does that match with your experience?
SCHENZ: Yes, that’s correct.
CRAWFORD: What about Dr. Brown? Did you have any interactions with him once you became a student?
SCHENZ: No. I’m just looking to see who signed my dissertation, because I don’t think he was on my committee. I had Dr. William Doane from Physics, and Dr. Reed, who was a crystallographer. But, no. No, I don’t think Dr. Brown even taught any courses.
CRAWFORD: I think at that time, I know he was director of the Institute and I think he also had some other administrative duties. What about the other members of your committee, Dr. Doane and Dr. Reed? Did you interact with them quite a bit?
SCHENZ: Well, Dr. Doane, especially, because I had taken some courses from him. Dr. Reed was in the lab next to Dr. Neff’s, and Dr. Reed and Dr. Neff were pretty good friends with each other. But still, not a whole lot of communication with him, with the exception of, would he be on the committee, and he would look at the dissertation and make comments, things like that.
CRAWFORD: I wonder if you could talk a little bit about taking courses as a grad student. You mentioned taking some courses with Dr. Doane. What was it like doing graduate courses in chemistry? How was it different from like an undergraduate course?
SCHENZ: Really not that different. Just delving into different things. We had candidacy exams in four areas. Like I had never taken statistical mechanics before. Dr. Neff taught specifically a statistical mechanics and group theory. It was a strenuous course. Then we had one candidacy in kinetics, but there was no kinetics course, so we had to kind of teach ourselves kinetics, in order to pass that.
SCHENZ: Another candidacy exam was in thermodynamics, and one in quantum chemistry.
CRAWFORD: Those were the four areas—statistical mechanics, kinetics, thermodynamics, and quantum chemistry?
SCHENZ: Yes, those were the four areas of the candidacy exams.
CRAWFORD: Did you study liquid crystals at all? Like did you take a course on liquid crystals at that time? Were they offering courses?
SCHENZ: No! You may get a chuckle out of this—to do research into anything, Chem Abstracts were still books.
SCHENZ: So, I can’t tell you how many hours spent in the library, looking through all the Chem Abstracts, trying to get the information that you needed.
CRAWFORD: Could you talk a little bit more about that? What were you doing? Were you literally just looking at abstracts, or reading whole scientific papers, or a combination of the two?
SCHENZ: It would be a combination of the two. I was looking at the abstracts to see if I could find anything about my research area. Then when I finally did find something, either go and get the periodical and have it copied, or have to send away for it, if it was something that was obscure.
CRAWFORD: So, Chem Abstracts gave you an overview of the literature in chemistry—
CRAWFORD: —and then once you identified particular articles or publications, then you went to those to find them?
CRAWFORD: Did you feel like Kent State’s library at the time was—did it have most of the stuff that you needed, or did you have to request it from other places?
SCHENZ: I would say it had most of the stuff I needed. They did stock the Molecular Crystals and Liquid Crystals periodicals, and those were ones that I was interested in being able to access.
CRAWFORD: Did that have any influence on your decision of topics to research, the availability of these literature and publications, at all?
SCHENZ: Not particularly.
CRAWFORD: I’m curious, too, since we talked a little bit about being a woman as a chemistry major in an undergraduate program, were there other women in the graduate program in Chemistry at the time that you were there, as well?
SCHENZ: I’m thinking. There were a few of the Taiwanese women. Of course, we had a female faculty member, and she was the person that taught quantum chemistry. And she was very hard to understand. So that was our first experience with that sort of thing. And the frustrating thing was, the book that we had to buy, which felt like it cost a small fortune, was not even what she used as her text. So we ended up having to buy three other books when we finally figured out where she was getting her source material from.
CRAWFORD: Ohhhh. I see.
SCHENZ: So, it was [laughs] really hard.
CRAWFORD: That sounds very challenging, for sure. You mentioned as an undergraduate, being one of the few female chemistry members, you felt like part of the group and so forth. Was that a similar experience that you had at Kent State?
SCHENZ: Yeah. We were all in it together. Of course, at Kent, Tim and I were already married, and so it wasn’t surprising that we would be together, or be having conversations with people at the same time, or maybe eating lunch together. That sort of thing.
CRAWFORD: Is there a particular experience that stands out from your time at Kent State doing your graduate work?
SCHENZ: A particular experience? I just remember studying really hard for the candidacy exams. And I still remember the night after the quantum chemistry one, when I went to go to sleep and I shut my eyes, all I could see was formulas.
SCHENZ: And it was just like, okay, they're jammed in my head, and now they're gonna bounce across my dreams, too!
CRAWFORD: [laughs] Were these oral exams or written exams?
CRAWFORD: Did you take them all in a sequence of days, or were they spread out?
SCHENZ: There was one a month.
CRAWFORD: How many years of coursework did you do before you took your candidacy exam?
SCHENZ: It probably was two.
CRAWFORD: I know you had a PhD in Physical Chemistry, but you also were awarded a master’s degree as well?
SCHENZ: No. It’s just that Dr. Neff had said, “Well, now that you've got this instrument built, that really could have been a master’s project.”
CRAWFORD: Oh, I see. So it could have been a master’s project, but—
SCHENZ: It could have been, but we didn’t treat it that way.
CRAWFORD: In some programs now, you get a master’s degree along the way, sometimes. But you were just working towards your PhD, essentially.
SCHENZ: At that point, yeah.
CRAWFORD: When you were doing your research, how was it funded? Did you apply for grants yourself, or was it funded through Dr. Neff, or some other source of funding?
SCHENZ: I assume it was through Dr. Neff. I don’t remember having to apply for a grant at all. I think he probably had funding from the liquid crystal people.
CRAWFORD: You finished your PhD in Physical Chemistry in 1974.
CRAWFORD: What happens next? What happens after Kent State?
SCHENZ: Well, what happened, since there were two of us, the last—because we were about at the same place in our research, I stopped work on mine, and I typed Tim’s dissertation. That was October, November, December, of 1973. Then, he got his. He got a temporary appointment to teach freshman chemistry at Kent for a quarter. Then he typed up my dissertation, for me. So I finished in March of ’74. Then we came back to graduate in June of ’74. So, he was looking like crazy for a job. He must have sent out, oh, 100 resumes or something. This was when there was a PhD glut. Got an offer for one interview—
SCHENZ: —at General Foods. Flew out, and they offered him the job.
SCHENZ: So that’s where we went. That was where we went. So we moved to Westchester County, New York. Because we say, “Okay, you get a job, and then I’ll look for work in a 50-mile radius of wherever we are.” But it took me a couple of years to land a job at Lever Brothers, because there were just—too many chemists available. I think I had mentioned to you before, I did have an interview at Timex, which was not too far from where we lived, except they wanted somebody with experience with electricity and liquid crystals, and not magnetism and liquid crystals. So they could afford to be, and probably found, somebody that met that criteria.
CRAWFORD: Did Kent State or the faculty in the Chemistry program do anything to help you find a job, like networking or anything like that?
SCHENZ: Not really. The main help we got was from one of the secretaries who just had gotten special word processing stuff. She said, “Okay, if you write a letter, I can put this into the computer, and then print these out for you.” So, she did that for Tim, which was really a big help. But it was—things were few and far between. Actually, the fortunate part was, we had joined a church, and we went to Sunday school class, only to discover that five of us were all physical chemists!
SCHENZ: And we just—we had to laugh. One guy was working at the King’s College, in Briarcliff Manor. And they needed—a half a person, somebody to teach analytical chemistry. So I became a half a person and taught analytical chemistry for a year at the King’s College. So at least I had—something. And that was good. It was a good reminder. We're doing qualitative analysis, and we're thinking about things, and quantitative analysis. It was fun. The students, they were just genuinely nice kids.
CRAWFORD: You did that for one year, teaching analytical chemistry.
CRAWFORD: That was 1975 or thereabouts?
SCHENZ: Okay, I’m digging out my resume here.
SCHENZ: King’s College, ’75 to ’76. Then I taught physical chemistry for a time in 1979. Because one of those friends that was teaching at King’s had a chance to do a sabbatical, and a special research thing in New York City, and he needed somebody to take his place. General Foods was incredibly gracious, because I taught I think two classes in the mornings, and then my husband would teach the lab, on other days. And all they did was—I tracked the hours that I wasn’t there, and then I would work those hours, so that General Foods, I wasn’t gypping General Foods. So, I did that. But the down side was, the book that they chose did not have any of the problems worked, in the teacher’s guide.
CRAWFORD: Oh, wow.
SCHENZ: So, there I am; I’m working all the physical chemistry problems, all over again.
CRAWFORD: Uch, wow.
SCHENZ: Which was actually a really good thing. Because when you teach it, as you know, you learn it in a different way than if you're just doing it for yourself. So, that was an experience.
CRAWFORD: You mentioned you and your husband moved to Westchester County because he got the job at GM, and you were spending some years looking for a job. When did you start at Lever Brothers?
SCHENZ: I started at Lever Brothers in 1976. I had been looking for work, and Tim had a connection at General Foods who kind of made a connection at Lever Brothers. I went there, and they hired me. I was working in laundry detergents, and specifically on bleaches. Unfortunately, there I learned that not every company knows how to orient a new person. I didn’t realize that. I assumed they knew what they were doing. That was a bad assumption. So, it was a tough working experience. Then a job opened up at General Foods, and I applied for that, and they hired me. I was very thankful for that.
CRAWFORD: When did you start at General Foods?
SCHENZ: I started there in 1978.
CRAWFORD: I know you said you were working on bleaches for Lever Brothers. What were you doing for them?
SCHENZ: They were interested in chlorine bleach and oxygen bleach and sulfite bleach. They were particularly interested in, do any of those help with underarm stains on t-shirts. Of course, if you're doing research into things like that, you have to be washing them. And they had a lab called the Detergent Lab where they had little tiny washers, with paddles, and you could do just a small amount of whatever you were interested in. I think they could do six different variants at a time, and they would do reflective measurements to tell you how white you were getting something. So, we never did find anything—that’s probably no big secret—that actually dealt with sweat stains on t-shirts. It just was like next to impossible. You might as well throw the shirt out.
SCHENZ: It was interesting. They had specially stained cloths with—oh, they had wine, and they had fatty things, and so on, that if you wanted to see if your sample was going to clean well on all different things, then you would have them do all of these different stains, and then have them check to see how white they got.
CRAWFORD: You said you were taking reflective measurements of the cloth to tell how white it was. Were you able to apply your experience with optics and the optical study of chemical materials? You were able to use that expertise there?
SCHENZ: Well, no. Somebody else did all of that. You designed the experiment, and then you made sure that the samples, the detergent samples were ready, and then somebody else ran the experiment. There was just this one lab, so that you were sure that essentially comparing things, different experiments, one to another, that you were dealing with the same machine, et cetera.
CRAWFORD: That makes sense. You said you were working with different kinds of bleaches. How did you decide what materials to use? Was it just you had a kind of assortment of things to try, or was there a design of particular bleaches that you thought might work?
SCHENZ: There were certain things that were at least commercially available that could be purchased and tried. So those were the things that I used.
CRAWFORD: You moved to General Foods in 1978, and it sounds like in part that decision was informed by not having a good new employee orientation or orienting new employees at Lever Brothers. Were there other reasons you decided to move to General Foods?
SCHENZ: For one thing, it was closer. I was driving one hour, one way, and it just got to be a hassle. Then there were just not great employee-boss relations, either.
CRAWFORD: What work were you doing at General Foods when you started there in 1978?
SCHENZ: I was working as a part of the Texture group, and I was working on the texture of liquids, which is called mouthfeel. So, something like milk and orange juice have the same instrumental viscosity, but they feel very different in your mouth. My job was to find out, well, what makes them different? And once I find that out, can I make something else feel that way? The main thing that I did a lot of work on was Tang. Because General Foods made Tang, and there’s no way you would mix it up with orange juice. But they wanted it to be more like orange juice. So I worked on that.
CRAWFORD: For someone who might be listening or reading this interview years from now, can you explain what Tang is?
SCHENZ: Oh, okay! Tang was a powdered beverage that was designed to be an orange juice substitute. It had Vitamin C and A in it, and then of course the big selling point at the time was the astronauts drank Tang. Because it was dry. It could be packaged. You're not dealing with a whole lot of weight of liquid that you're transporting. That just kind of caught people’s eye, or idea. General Foods also made Kool-Aid, which was a very big drink for kids at the time.
CRAWFORD: Also a powdered drink.
SCHENZ: Yes, also a powdered drink.
CRAWFORD: It sounds like what was happening with Tang was, did they develop it for the space program, and then when you’re working on it, they're trying to maybe expand it for a more general market? Is that correct?
SCHENZ: I’m thinking it was the other way around. I think they made Tang—and I don’t know if Kool-Aid came first, or not. No, Kool-Aid probably had some vitamin C in it, but Tang had vitamins A and C in it. They were really looking for an orange juice substitute that would be cheaper, and that kids would like.
CRAWFORD: Was orange juice particularly expensive at the time, or was this just trying to capture a different segment of the orange juice market, so to speak?
SCHENZ: That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer to that. I have no idea about costs at the time.
CRAWFORD: I wonder if we could go back to just talking a little bit about the technical work that you were doing. Can you explain what you mean by mouthfeel, and how does one go about studying that? Could you give us an example of how you study that?
SCHENZ: There were a series of measurements that I would do, on a beverage or a beverage sample. One of course was viscosity. Another one was surface tension. We would do obviously tasting of everything, and General Foods had a Sensory Evaluation Department that was quite wonderful, who would quantify for you how sweet, how sour, how thick something felt, et cetera. I’m thinking there were other measurements but I can’t remember offhand what they were. The percent solids in something would be important. You can tell the difference—well, the main thing—the one example I can think of is that if you're drinking skim milk, and then you drink full-fat milk, they are very, very different. Now, that is the difference of, well, okay, we've got fat component in there, so you're adding a specific different ingredient. But then you're also having an emulsion when you're dealing with whole milk versus skim milk, which may have trace amounts of fat in it, but it almost tastes watery. If you've worked yourself back from full-fat milk to, say, 1% or 2%, then when you go to taste regular full-fat milk, it’s like, “My gosh, this tastes like cream.” So it’s really a difference. We would also measure how acidic is it using titration What is the pH of it? Especially when you're dealing with something like orange juice or Tang. Milk is pretty much close to neutral, but various juices can be all over the place.
CRAWFORD: So, the chemical description of mouthfeel is a combination of all these different quantities and qualities of a substance that you're measuring. Is that more or less correct?
SCHENZ: Yes. And probably some stuff that we had no idea how to measure.
CRAWFORD: [laughs] At the time that you were working on mouthfeel, was this a new field, or was it fairly well-established?
SCHENZ: I am thinking that my boss at the time, who was Dr. Alina Szczesniak, had developed the field. She had really developed the whole idea of texture, even though when you talk about it now, you say, “Oh, well, of course. Somebody must be doing that.” But she worked at quantifying it. She had a scale for solids that included things like olives, or hot dogs, or something, that you could relate to, and she published papers that people could then buy these samples and then, “Okay, this has a texture of one; this has a texture of three.” Whatever unit you were dealing with.
CRAWFORD: And your boss’s name, you said, was Dr. Alina Szczesniak?
SCHENZ: Szczesniak. S-Z-C-Z-E-S-N-I-A-K. First name Alina; A-L-I-N-A.
CRAWFORD: Thank you very much.
SCHENZ: Yes. She was Polish, and actually had served time, unfortunately, in a concentration camp.
SCHENZ: She was meticulous. She was meticulous. So we had a whole Texture group. Probably our favorite thing was when General Foods started making Pudding Pops, because they made Jell-O Pudding, and made like the fudgsicles out of them. We had a machine called an Instron, that mimicked biting into something. So once they bit into the Pudding Pop formula, well, then, what was left over was—edible! So we would line up and enjoyed a lot of Pudding Pop portions. So it was a fun group to work in.
CRAWFORD: Wow. I just want to make sure I understand. You're saying you had a machine that essentially did the biting into things, and that produced measurements about what it was like to bite into something. Is that essentially correct?
SCHENZ: Yes. They had all different kinds of measuring heads. There were some that would mimic, if you were chewing with your back teeth. So, just all kinds of iterations. And those machines are used in many industries, not just food.
CRAWFORD: Huh! What are some of the other industries that they would get used in?
SCHENZ: I would guess it would be things like the rubber industry. You might be testing tires. I saw something on one of the science shows here, and I can’t remember what they were testing. But it could be anything where you want to be checking springiness, or how—it wouldn't necessarily show you about crumbly, but how easy is it going to be to bite into it, or how easy would it be to cut through it.
CRAWFORD: What was it like being a scientist at General Foods, working in industry, versus being a scientist in academia? I know you were a grad student at Kent State, but did you notice a difference moving into an industry lab as opposed to your experience as a grad student at an academic lab?
SCHENZ: The main difference would be, everything you did at General Foods had to be—they had projects defined, and so you were doing stuff as part of that particular project. Your project had goals, and there were certain activities listed under that, and so you were working toward those. The neat thing about General Foods for me is, not only are you doing experiments with instruments, et cetera, you're tasting it! You're checking it out. It has immediate application. “Okay, I’ve done this to the product. Okay, I’ve made it thicker. Okay, what did that do to the taste? Oh, that made it way too thick, and now it tastes too sweet, and it has thrown the sweet and sour balance off. So, we're not using that.”
CRAWFORD: I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about the kind of work that you were doing at General Foods. You mentioned working on this project to make Tang more like orange juice. Were you successful in that enterprise?
SCHENZ: Well, there were certainly things that we could do. A lot of them would have cost too much. There are really exotic, wonderful flavors, or flavor adjuvants, that could be added, that might not survive sitting on a shelf for a long time. So there are things that work, but were they commercially usable? Only some of them.
CRAWFORD: That’s a real limiting factor if it is not commercially viable.
SCHENZ: Right. I mean, I’ve got some patents that are for things that would never be used.
CRAWFORD: [laughs] Because they're not commercially viable?
SCHENZ: They're not commercially viable, no. Or it doesn't necessarily make sense. Or it would cost too much to do this.
CRAWFORD: Why did you patent those things?
SCHENZ: Well, the general philosophy was, anything that could possibly end up in a product, we should patent. It had to have some potential useful end use. Once you had an idea, you filled out something called an MOI, a Memorandum of Invention, and then there would be a committee that would take a look at those, and say, “Okay, A, B, and C are worth pursuing. The rest of these, not so much.” So, there would be screening that would go on for that.
CRAWFORD: I think I saw on your biographical description you had 11 patents over the course of your career, but you may have filled out many more MOIs than actually became patents. Is that correct?
SCHENZ: Oh, yes. And not only—I mean, everybody. Everybody did that.
CRAWFORD: So it was just a matter of course that you filled out a patent once you had something that you thought might have application.
CRAWFORD: I’m also curious, too, during your time at General Foods, a lot of industries of course work with academia and work with academic scientists. Was that your experience at General Foods, or was most of this research being done sort of in-house?
SCHENZ: It was primarily in-house, but I also had opportunity to work with the Monell Institute of Chemical Senses in Philadelphia. And I remember going to some university in the Bronx, for some particular technique, and I’m now drawing a blank on that. But, yeah, General Foods did encourage that. So, it had an academic bent to it, say, more so than Abbott.
CRAWFORD: That Institute name, could you just say that one more time, please?
SCHENZ: The Monell—it’s M-O-N-E-L-L—Institute of Chemical Senses, is what it was called then. In Philadelphia.
CRAWFORD: Senses is S-E-N-S-E-S?
SCHENZ: Yes. So, chemical senses, primarily taste and smell.
CRAWFORD: Was that associated with a university, or was it a standalone research institute?
SCHENZ: They probably did some things with universities, because they accepted grants, et cetera. But they published a fair amount of things, and we had some speakers come from Monell and talk to us. I know we had one scientist at General Foods who had worked there before she came to General Foods.
CRAWFORD: I see. How long did you work at General Foods? You said you started there in 1978, and I know after that you moved to Abbott Laboratories. When did you make that move?
SCHENZ: I’m just looking here.
SCHENZ: When did we make the move? I want to say ’87. Yes, ’87.
CRAWFORD: Why did you decide to leave General Foods and move to Abbott?
SCHENZ: General Foods was having cutbacks. They had cut back two or three times, and all of us had seen dear, dear friends, fired. One of Tim’s former bosses worked at what was then Ross Labs, or Ross Products Division of Abbott Labs, here in Columbus, Ohio. He invited us—he said—we still sent Christmas cards, et cetera—and he said, “I think you ought to come out. I think maybe we've got potential jobs for you and Anne.” I had said to Tim, “I’m not going to waste their money if we're not at all serious.” Then all of a sudden, we had a rash of cutbacks, and I said, “Okay, I think I’m serious now.” So, we came out, and we knew they were going to have another series of cutbacks—there was a date. We knew when the next cutback was going to be. At the end of our day there, they said, “Okay, we're going to make you—we’d like to hire you. But you have to have a drug test first.” And I don’t know what all else, maybe a physical. We said, “Okay. But, we have to know by such and such a date, so we can volunteer to be fired. That way, we'll save somebody’s jobs.” So they hustled and got us drug tested, and physicals, and so on. And the day came, I guess before—finally, we hear, and we went to talk to our boss, who at the moment was the same guy, and said, “We’d like to volunteer to be fired.” And he said, “You bums!” We explained what had happened. So, then, as we prepared to leave, he told us the names of the people whose jobs we were saving. It was like—all right, then I had to cry. Because General Foods was just this lovely, lovely family company, and—you loved everybody you worked with! You just did. They were wonderful. They were a little quirky, but wonderful. So, that’s how we happened to come here.
CRAWFORD: Wow. I don’t know if you can speak to this, but do you know why General Foods was engaging in cutbacks at that time, in the late 1980s?
SCHENZ: Well, I suppose they were just having financial problems, just the way so many places do, from time to time. Even Abbott had cutbacks, when we worked there.
CRAWFORD: While many people might be familiar with General Foods, I’m not sure if Abbott Laboratories is quite as generally familiar. I wonder if you can tell us a little bit about what Abbott Laboratories, what their specialization was.
SCHENZ: I’m just going to backtrack for a minute. General Foods then became purchased by Kraft. So they were in the middle of mergers and everything, and that was part of the roiling of the people. Abbott, or Ross at the time—well, still does—make Similac infant formula, and Ensure medical nutritional formula for adults. So, they were interested in Tim to start up a physical chemistry group there, and for me to start a flavor technology group there. Because they said, “While we want this stuff to be good for you, people have to be able to consume it.” And all those vitamins and minerals—don’t taste good. As you well know, if you've had a vitamin pill dissolve in your mouth before you could swallow it.
CRAWFORD: [laughs] Yeah. So, that was essentially what you were tasked with doing, was finding a way to make these products like Similac and Ensure taste good?
SCHENZ: Yes. Well, flavors were never added to any of the infant formula things. They were just very, very, very careful. Abbott bought Ross I think before we started there. Abbott is this big pharmaceutical company that tends to be all over. Actually Abbott was famous for developing the first HIV medicine. So, they've done some really high-powered stuff. But the nutritional part was really quite separate. Different location, et cetera.
CRAWFORD: What was involved in setting up this Flavor Technology group? Can you describe that process to me?
SCHENZ: Yes. Well, I had had the chance to work with the Flavor group at General Foods, so I contacted my former boss, and I said, “Would you just”—for money, obviously—“would you send me something just explaining what all functions are involved in this, so that I have like a piece of paper, or a report, to show people?” Because he would have had more credibility than just me. So I also had material from somebody else. So it was, “Okay, we need to have these particular functions in here, for a viable Flavor group.” We weren’t having people create flavors on site, but we worked with a number of what are called flavor houses, who designed and built flavors for us.
CRAWFORD: Could you explain how that worked? What would you give to these flavor houses? Could you just give us an example?
SCHENZ: Sure. One of the things that we always had to do was make things—because most of the stuff that Ross was making then was what was called retorted or boiled. The product was put into a can, and then heated up to boiling, because everything had to be sterile. These were medical products that are designed to be consumed by people who are potentially health compromised, and we don’t want to hurt anybody. We just don’t. So, you're really asking a lot of a product, to stand up to boiling temperatures. So, the pilot plant would make for us what was called unflavored base. It was essentially everything but the flavor, that we would send off to the various flavor houses, and say, “Okay, we’d like this to taste like”—I don’t know; hot chocolate. Or, like fudgsicles, or something along those lines. We’d give them some kind of guidance. But, we don’t want to be able to taste the vitamin-y taste, or the taste of the milk protein or the soy protein or whatever was in the particular product. So then they would send back samples. We would do a screening of them, and then if it looked like they’d be okay, then we’d actually make product with them, to see how well it processed.
CRAWFORD: When you did the screening, was it—? How were you screening the samples that they were sending?
SCHENZ: They would give you a recommended amount of flavor to add, and we’d just put it in our own unflavored base and just we’d sit around and taste it. “Okay, that really does not taste good. Because that’s the bottom line. It doesn't matter how many measurements we do; if it doesn't taste good, then that’s not it. Does it cover up any what we would call off-notes? Okay, this is promising. Let’s go ahead and make this into product, and then taste it again. And, okay, it tastes pretty good now. All right, now it has to age. We'll test it at three months, and six months, and nine months, and a year, because that’s how long we’d like the shelf life to be. So, you're asking a lot of a product to go through all that.
CRAWFORD: [laughs] Yeah, for sure. I’m curious about just the tasting, because tasting—taste to me seems so—unscientific, in a way, but maybe I’m wrong about that. Did you have people—like in the wine industry, you have people who are basically professional tasters. Did you ever use people like that, or just rely on yourselves to test these things?
SCHENZ: We had the Sensory Evaluation Group, and the people that participated in those panels went to Arthur D. Little, in Massachusetts, for training. It’s possible to be trained in—tasting. Furthermore, in amount. Okay, so here’s the standard. Okay, if you taste this sugar and water solution, we're going to agree that that’s a one, in sweetness. Okay. Then, here’s one that has more in it. Okay, we're going to agree this is two. Okay, here’s one that’s got even more sugar in it. We're going to agree that this is a three. So you standardize yourself, the way you would standardize any instrument. And you would always have those available if you needed to refresh your memory. But then, nobody ever tastes by themselves. You like to have four or five people, and our whole group would tend to get together to do the initial screening. Because everybody, I think, in the group, had had the Arthur D. Little training. So we would taste, and then once we thought we had it pretty good, then we would send it to the Sensory Evaluation Group, who would give us kind of the official description, and then the Sensory Evaluation Group also had larger panels, where they just had anybody come in and taste. Okay, let’s have people from Engineering and from the Medical Department, and whatever, just come and taste, and say, “Okay, I have these three samples—A, B, and C. Which one do you like best?”
CRAWFORD: So, you actually did the Arthur D. Little training?
CRAWFORD: What was that like?
SCHENZ: It’s just kind of like learning any new discipline. You go, you learn how to taste the various standards, they give you different things to smell. “Okay, now we're going to taste this sample. What do you get?” Turned out it was V-8 juice. And so, even though it looked like tomato juice, it really tasted weird. Okay, what all are you tasting in this? Well, I get some celery. Somebody else got cucumber. And you just kind of learn together.
CRAWFORD: Hmm! When you did the training, how many people would be there? Was it a large group, a small group?
SCHENZ: I would say probably within 10 to 12 people would go? It’s an expensive thing. You go for a week, and you're paying hotel for people. You do this all day, but then in the evening, you might go out and say, “Okay, now we're going to experience this particular restaurant. Okay, let’s talk about the food.” Things like that.
CRAWFORD: You said Arthur D. Little was located in Massachusetts?
SCHENZ: In Boston, yeah. Or right outside Boston, I think. Yeah, we took their subway, I guess, to get there.
CRAWFORD: Did you work at Abbott until you retired?
CRAWFORD: Were you working with the Flavor Technology Group the whole time that you were there?
CRAWFORD: I know you said that at General Foods, you worked on Tang. Were there any particular products at Abbott that you were involved in?
SCHENZ: The main one was Ensure, but we also had a product for diabetics called Glucerna, and the one thing that we worked on for kids was Pedialyte.
CRAWFORD: Could you just briefly explain what these different products are for? What was their purpose?
SCHENZ: Ensure can be a meal replacement. It actually started out designed to be what we call tube-fed, which meant if you're in the hospital and you're having to get your nutrition via a tube, then this one could work. Then they decided, well, but we’d like to be able to have it taste good, so that we can sell it commercially. If you go to your grocery store today, you can find Ensure on the shelf.
CRAWFORD: Could you explain what Glucerna and Pedialyte were?
SCHENZ: Glucerna is as product for diabetics. Regular Ensure just uses sucrose, or sugar, as the sweetener, because we used to always say, “Sugar is your friend. If you have something that you want to taste better, if you just sweeten it up a little bit, it generally really helps the flavor.” Glucerna had more of a sweetener called fructose, which is a simpler sugar and more easily metabolized by people with diabetes. I’m sure there are other things in there, but that’s the main difference. But you still wanted that to taste good, for people.
CRAWFORD: Glucerna was a similar kind of meal replacement type of product?
SCHENZ: Yes, it can be a meal replacement, or a snack replacement, if you're trying to keep your blood sugar level for the day. Then Pedialyte is a hydration drink, for kids who are sick with diarrhea. Now we find that it tends to be used by professional athletes, or for hangover recovery, places where you really need to be hydrated. It is very carefully made. Now, I think you can buy just like little pouches of solid that you can add to bottled water, so that you don’t even have to deal with, “Okay, now I have to buy a quart of this stuff. What if my kid doesn't like it?” But it had some salt in it, not surprisingly, because you want to replace that. So it was a bit of a challenge to find something to add to it to make it taste good.
CRAWFORD: So, you're working on these products for 15 years. Are you developing new flavors and things like that? Is that what you were doing?
SCHENZ: We also worked on a number of products that are designed for really medical-only use. Abbott made a range of things, for people with cancer, for people who have kidney disease, and often times, the preferred fat or oil that was used was a fish oil, which—you can just imagine. And the marketing people want vanilla. Well, it’s just—those are really hard to deal with. Really hard to deal with.
CRAWFORD: [laughs] Yeah, I can imagine! I’m just trying to be mindful of the time. I see it’s 2:00. I know we only scheduled for two hours. I wonder, do you have a little more time to talk, or do we need to stop?
SCHENZ: I could give you 15 or so minutes, I think, easily.
CRAWFORD: I know you took early retirement in 2002.
CRAWFORD: I wanted to talk a little bit about that, and then maybe a couple of broader questions, so I think 15 minutes would be great, if you have the time. I was just wondering if you could talk a little bit about taking early retirement in 2002. I know you went to work for an organization called Frontiers. I was wondering if you could tell us about what that organization was, and maybe your decision to retire early.
SCHENZ: Well, my husband and I had really always wanted to retire early and do something in Christian missions. We had gone to a conference called the Finishers Conference a few years before that. Then, Tim’s folks moved to be near us. He’s an only child. And we said, “Okay, now we have a problem. We are very interested in Christian missions, but we can’t go anywhere. He’s the only child, and we have to be here.” Because they were kind of having health issues and so on. So, Frontiers was really the only place that said, “Well, we think we could find things for you to do.” So, Tim did just a lot, a lot, of computer work for them—database design, setting up different forms, et cetera. Toward the end of my time at Ross and Abbott, I had had the opportunity to do some project management for an Ensure improvement. And they said, “Gee, we think we could use your project management experience to coordinate a team to go to a conference called Urbana.” Urbana is the every-three-year student missions convention, held by an organization called Intervarsity, held at Urbana, Indiana, hence the name Urbana, which is just to inspire—they want to inspire students to be concerned about missions. Tim and I had actually gone to Urbana as adults in 1990, so we understood what it was about. But one of the main things that various missions agencies do is they have displays, and they set them up, and then we take missionaries or other workers there to talk to the students, if anybody is interested, just in hoping to recruit students. And there are many missions agencies that do this. So, I had a team—that first year, there were like 50 of us, believe it or not, that went. But I had a small core team, and a half dozen or so of us would get together and work together and, “Okay, we're going to do this. How are we going to do this?” The first one actually was at the University of Illinois in Urbana. We rented a fraternity house, God bless us. And slept in the frat rooms. We would take our own cots. We had somebody to cook, and so on. It was really—I guess I want to say primitive. But we had wonderful people, from all over, who were just—some of whom were missionaries, some of whom were office workers, just talking to the students. And had a wonderful time. The next—three years later, then we did another exhibit, and by that time, they had moved—actually, we went to Saint Louis. It was in the—whatever they call their superdome, except I don’t think that’s it—where the Rams play.
CRAWFORD: Wow. Wow.
SCHENZ: So, had a chance to go. I got a chance to walk on the Rams football field and everything. It was [laughs] exciting! At any rate, they had a nice, large room, where we could all be. They weren’t using anything between—the conference is always between Christmas and New Year’s. So, evidently they didn’t have any games, then, or at least not any home games. So, we went there.
CRAWFORD: Wow. I know that you mentioned I think growing up in the Presbyterian church, and went to Westminster which at the time was a Presbyterian college. Is Frontiers also a Presbyterian organization, or is it a different denomination, or non-denominational?
SCHENZ: It’s kind of non-denominational. A lot of their leadership are with the Vineyard church, but they had people from all different denominations. It really doesn't matter; you just have to love Jesus. And the people you're going to. And their primary focus was taking the Good News about Jesus to Muslims in their homelands.
SCHENZ: Which, as you can even begin to imagine, is incredibly difficult.
CRAWFORD: Yeah. Right, right. Yeah. So, I’m curious about this—why did you and your husband particularly feel called, I guess, to work in missions, in 2002? You said this was sort of like a long-term goal or something, but why was that particularly important to you?
SCHENZ: It was just the time. We had talked about, “We're going to retire at 55. We're going to have plenty more years.” Well, we actually didn’t retire until we were 57. And it just—seemed that the time was right. We talked to Frontiers and they said, “Well, we think [laughs]—we think—we would have something. And, you do not have to move. You do not have to go overseas.” I did my meetings on phone conferences. I would make two or three trips to Arizona a year, because it’s so nice to see people face to face. Then of course when we were at Urbana, we were in very close quarters. I tell you, those people were amazing! “Oh, we'll sleep on the floor.” It was like—oh!—in a fraternity house, you know? You don’t even want to think about it.
CRAWFORD: [laughs] Right. I guess I’m just curious—I know you said that you were somewhat place-bound, because of your husband’s parents, but if that had not happened, do you think you would have wanted to travel, to do the missionary work abroad?
SCHENZ: I’m not sure. I really think God has a sense of humor. I really have a heart for missions, but I really don’t like to travel that much. So he kind of put us in what I think was the perfect spot.
CRAWFORD: [laughs] Yeah. And so, the interest in missions is really about spreading the Good News, so to speak? That’s the motivation?
SCHENZ: Yes. To people who have never heard. Which is—it’s bound to be difficult. It’s easy to walk down the street and pray for one of your neighbors, but it’s really hard to go cross-culturally. How are you going to be understood? Can you learn the language? The people that go—because we had a chance to go to candidate school with Frontiers, and the actual missionaries would talk, and really are in the trenches. And some of them are in dangerous places, not surprisingly. Then they won’t really tell you where they are. And it’s just better that we not know, you know? Because you don’t want to compromise them.
CRAWFORD: I’m curious to ask, because it sounds like faith has been an important part of your life, and you mentioned growing up in the Presbyterian church, and at one point I think when you were in Westchester County, you mentioned a number of physical chemists going to your church and everything. I’m just curious to ask a slightly bigger question. Because I think people often think—and I think in the news, we sometimes hear stories about conflict between religion and science, and so forth. I just wonder if you’d be willing to talk about your own views or your own experiences on faith and science and how those fit together. Did you feel any particular conflict, or how do you see them fitting together?
SCHENZ: I never felt a conflict. As a matter of fact, the more you study science, you say, “Oh my goodness. This could never have happened randomly.” Just even tasting things. God, how did you ever design our taste buds, and our noses, to be able to do this? To taste and smell? It’s just—it’s hard for me to imagine a scientist who wouldn't have seen God at least in some part of their studies. It’s just—just look at the human body, which is something that we had an opportunity to really think about, when we were at Ross and Abbott. How are the nutrients used? What do we have to have in this product? Because this is the way the bodies are designed, and we need to provide these things! I just never saw a disconnect.
CRAWFORD: And I can imagine that you would really get an appreciation for the human senses and the way that they can allow us to perceive and interact with the natural world, and juxtaposing that with any kind of devices that you're probably using to try to mimic senses. It’s probably very hard to recreate that experience in a machine, right?
SCHENZ: I would guess that that is never gonna happen.
SCHENZ: I mean, when I was doing the stuff with beverage mouthfeel, we had five or six measurements that we did. If I gave you those measurements, could you create a beverage or a syrup or a food with that? No. No.
CRAWFORD: [laughs] Yeah. So, just want to ask maybe one final question here. Reflecting on your experience studying science, and working as a chemist for various companies and so forth. And I know the world has changed quite a bit in your lifetime, and science has changed quite a bit in your lifetime, but I wonder what advice you might have for a student or young person seeking a career in science today. What would you tell them?
SCHENZ: I guess I would say, “Find your passion.” If there is something that just grabs you, then that might be it. But don’t be afraid to try something new, or to explore something new, because you may say, “Oh my goodness, there’s this whole other world of stuff that I never knew about.” And it’s just—it’s not all fun, but there’s parts of it that are just delightful.
CRAWFORD: Just one more question. You started off talking about how, early on, because of some of the challenges you had with math, your parents encouraged you to pursue a career in education rather than becoming an astronomer or something. What did they think about your career as a chemist and in food science?
SCHENZ: Well, [laughs] when we graduated, and gave them copies of our dissertations, I sincerely doubt that anybody sat down and read them. But I think they were okay with it. We're still like normal people. My husband Tim is just one of these guys that he just loves all the techie stuff. I mean, he loves the techie stuff. So, when we go to visit people, there’s always a list of things for him to do.
SCHENZ: Whether it’s the computer, or things that he learned from his Dad. Because his Dad was kind of a genius in his own right, in just being able to do stuff around the house, or invent tools when he didn’t have one. So, we were just still real people. I don’t think they—well, you’d almost have to ask them, but I don’t think they thought we were weird or anything.
CRAWFORD: Great. Dr. Schenz, I want to thank you so much for your time, and for this excellent interview. I really appreciate you sharing your story with me today.
Liquid Crystal Oral History: Schenz, Anne
Crawford, Matthew James
An oral history interview with Dr. Anne Schenz, retired Senior Group Leader (1987-2002) with Abbott Laboratories and former PhD student at Kent State University. This interview is part of the Liquid Crystal Oral History Project. Schenz shares the evolution of her educational and professional careers. She was born in 1945 in Sharpsville, PA. Although her interest in science was sparked by astronomy, she majored in chemistry as an undergraduate at Westminster College. While originally having no desire to attend graduate school, she became a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry in 1968 and earned her PhD in 1974. Following graduation, Schenz taught analytical chemistry for a year at the King’s College in New York and did some research into laundry bleaches at Lever Brothers before moving to General Foods in 1978. Schenz shares her experience as a researcher in General Food’s Texture Goup working to improve the texture of liquid products such as Tang. In 1987, she moved from General Foods to Abbott Laboratories and joined their Flavor Technology Group. Schenz explains how this group worked on improving the flavor of nutritional supplements such as Ensure. She retired from Abbott Laboratories in 2002 to work with Frontiers, a Christian missionary group. Schenz also elaborates on her work in Christian missions and her thoughts on the relationship between science and religion.Sponsor: The Liquid Crystal Oral History Project is funded in part by the Ohio History Fund, a grant program of the Ohio History Connection. Your donations to the Ohio History Fund make this program possible.
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