Accept the greater challenge – Tyler Kirkmann, Cerahelix’s Project Scientist

Next week Tyler Kirkmann, Cerahelix’s Project Scientist, will present Cerahelix’s ceramic picofiltration technology at the International Conference on Inorganic Membranes (ICIM) in Atlanta.

 

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ICIM is the premier international conference focused on inorganic membranes. In recent years inorganic membranes have received more attention because of their potential to solve important technological and societal challenges in the 21st century such as:

 

  • Efficient production of fuels and chemicals
  • Renewable energy
  • Drinking water
  • Environmental remediation
  • Climate change mitigation

 

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Tyler is excited about ICIM taking place in Atlanta this year. At the moment, Asia and Europe are far ahead of the U.S. in ceramic membranes, and he wants to promote the field in the United States. His presentation is titled “DNA-Templated Ceramic Nanofiltration Membranes,” and in it he will describe many of the advantages of ceramic membranes compared to polymeric membranes.

 

Presenting at an international conference like ICIM and representing Cerahelix is just one of the many roles Tyler plays at the company.

 

Tyler has been with Cerahelix since it was founded in 2011, and before that he worked for the Cerahelix founders at Zeomatrix (now Odigo), their previous startup. Tyler was hired by Susan MacKay, then President of Zeomatrix and now CEO of Cerahelix, right out of college after finishing his undergraduate degree in Engineering Physics at the University of Maine in 2006.

 

At Zeomatrix Tyler was first introduced to ceramic materials chemistry, which Zeomatrix was using to develop their odor-absorbing paper coating. When Cerahelix was founded, he was immediately hired to continue with the new company. From the start Tyler assumed responsibility as the R&D engineer with Cerahelix.

 

There is nothing theoretical about a startup. There are no previous protocols to follow. A startup does not grant much time to learn the job; you just have to do it. Tyler got the job done. He developed his own protocols as well as the membrane itself; he is a principal inventor on all six issued patents encompassing Cerahelix’s DNA-templated ceramic technologies.

 

Cerahelix has grown during his time here, from three to nine employees. Proof-of-concept and prototype production have been achieved, and pilot studies using commercial scale filters are currently running. Tyler is now the head of research and development and manages a team of four scientists who are constantly working on product improvements to meet customer demands. During all of this he also managed to earn his Professional Engineering License.

 

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Why did Tyler choose to work for a start-up? He values the opportunities found by employees at Cleantech startups, which include:

 

  • larger responsibility
  • diverse roles within the company
  • new challenges and continuous learning
  • pride in Cerahelix’s technology and supporting energy efficient and sustainable manufacturing processes

 

The biggest challenge Tyler faces in his job is designing a completely new material. He is in charge of membrane development, and he has no one to look to for examples. It has been a long process. In order to undertake a project like this, the ability to recover and learn from mistakes is necessary.

 

What Tyler likes most about working at Cerahelix is the constant evolution. There is no such thing as a typical day; he always has a new project. Working at a startup requires flexibility and the ability to creatively solve problems. This is something Tyler excels at. The most unexpected skills come in handy. For instance, when he first began sealing the ends of the finished tubes, he needed a place for them to dry. Tyler solved this problem using his origami skills: he folded the stands out of paper.

 

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Tyler grew up in Maine, and after graduating from college he wanted to stay in Maine but also find a science career where he could use his skills. Cerahelix offered him not only the opportunity to stay in Maine, but also an exciting job in an innovative materials science company. In the end it has definitely been a win for both Tyler and Cerahelix!

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