Chemist, Truman alumnus shares experience working with federal government

Glow sticks are those neon lights often seen at concerts and parties. Glow sticks actually have a military origin and were developed as an application in the navy in case of power loss. That is what Paul Goodman, returning alum, said during his lecture. He was invited back to speak to Truman State University chemistry students during the weekly Friday chemistry seminars to talk about his experiences as a government chemist.

Goodman came back because he wanted to talk to students about the chance to work in the federal government as a chemist, an opportunity he did not see or hear about while he was a student at Truman.

After graduating from Truman in 2008, Goodman went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He graduated in 2013 with his doctorate in chemistry and then started work as a research chemist at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division at China Lake. Goodman’s field of training was electrochemistry, so he worked on energy storage devices, specifically supercapacitors.  

“My work was in developing new electrode materials to see if we can improve their properties or develop new electrolytes to see if we could make them perform better,” Goodman said.

He discussed some of his work with supercapacitors at his lecture, as well as his current work.

Goodman now works at the Department of Defense’s drug testing program. He is the quality control department head for the drug screening lab at Great Lake. He said his department is responsible for preparing and certifying the control material to make sure all the chemistry they do works the way they expect.

“I’m one of the people who looks at the data and makes sure that it is accurate,” Goodman said. “Then I let those results go to the command or the customers who have submitted those samples.”

He also serves as the laboratory certifying official, so he acts as an expert witness for the lab. Goodman said every report usually results in some kind of legal action for the service members because there is a zero tolerance policy for drug use in the military. Goodman said he is called to testify in administrative boards, usually several times per week, any time a service member gets a positive drug test. He has been certified for a year now.

He doesn’t work much in a lab like he used to. Goodman’s job now is to run the quality control program while technicians work in the laboratory. Certifying data is a desk job. His previous job was lab-focused, which meant he was in a lab all the time. One of the reasons he moved to the drug screening program was because he wanted to do something different that was a little less lab heavy.

Goodman said that during every Friday chemistry seminar, somebody would be invited to talk to chemistry students. Typically these were professors who would come in to talk about the research they were doing in their labs, and they partially serve as recruiting trips.

“It turns out that Truman students are good chemists as a general rule, so it’s worth the trip to see if you can convince some students to come and be in your lab,” Goodman said.

Goodman initially came to Truman as a pre-pharmacy student. During his sophomore year, he decided he preferred chemistry to biology and dropped pharmacy. It was also at that point that he started working as a student researcher for John O’Brien, a chemistry professor at Truman. O’Brien said as a student researcher, Goodman worked on synthetic chemistry, working toward a synthetic oxygen that would end up behaving like hemoglobin. They tried to make a product, but they were not successful, though getting a successful product was not the point of a research project.

“One of the things I look for in a student is that they will adopt the project as their own and kinda go with the idea and come up with some original improvements,” O’Brien said. “And he [Goodman] did that. He had good imagination and he was very tenacious, and had a lot to show for it.”

Chemistry professor Barbara Kramer taught analytical chemistry courses while Goodman was a student at Truman. She said that he was a good example of a Truman student.

“I think that he was a great guy to have in class and just good to know,” Kramer said. “He’s a good person to see as an example of someone who does good things.”