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Hot Shots & Hot Jobs: Making Our Daily Vitamins Effective—And Tasty!

Pfizer Gummie vitamins

Gummie vitamins have become a popular way to get a good dose of nutrients each day. It’s a routine many of us don’t give much thought to, but a lot of science goes into that little bite: everything from its color to its digestibility was studied and perfected in a lab. Check out three “Hot Shots and Hot Jobs” involved in the development and design of gummie vitamins: Product Design Scientist, Confection Technologist, and Analytical Chemist.

Kamala Chapman is a Product Design Scientist in Pfizer’s Consumer Healthcare division. By talking with consumers about their likes and dislikes, she gets a good idea of the shapes, colors and flavors that will make vitamins fun for people to take. Then she works with others in a lab to create a concoction that will bring these elements together. Once the color and flavor are perfected, the mixture is poured into molds that give each vitamin an appealing shape that corresponds to its flavor, like an orange slice or a berry.

“It makes it look good,” says Mahesh Venkatachalam, Principal Scientist. “It brings it to life and makes it look real.”

Venkatachalam is trained in confection technology, a food science that involves making candy and other sweet things. At Pfizer, that means making things like vitamins a little tastier to take.

Heather Lourenco, an Analytical Chemist, works in a lab to see how quickly and thoroughly products are digested and also confirms that the correct amount of key ingredients are dispensed throughout a product’s expiry period. This role involves a lot of mixing, pouring and diluting – repetitive chores that she is happy to hand over to the robots in the lab.

“I like to be creative,” she says. “So if I can have a robot component taking away my manual benchwork, then I have time to think of creative ideas.”

By combining consumer research with lab work, these scientists are able to create a product that is as popular as it is healthy.

“Being able to empower people to help themselves live more nutritious and healthy lives,” says Chapman. “That’s what I love.”

What does a Product Design Scientist do?
Product design scientists have a very big job—really, everything involved in taking an idea and making it reality as a commercial product. They organize the design process, oversee the testing and influence the marketing of a product before it gets to consumers. They collaborate with people from all kinds of professional backgrounds, depending on the product they’re working on.

If you have an analytical mind, and you can juggle a lot of information and input, you might make a great product design scientist. Read more about the details of this line of work, and check out the Product Development and Management Association blog for book reviews, interviews and interesting industry tips.

What does a Confection Technologist do?
Confection technologists are behind the design of some of your favorite sweets, making sure they are made in a way that is tasty, visually appealing and easy to transport and stock. Beyond the candy store, they are called upon for the development of lots of products that are improved by a sweet taste. Minty breath strips, chocolate laxatives and the vitamins in this video all came about with the help of a confection technologist.

If you enjoy the creative process, and working on a team, you might really enjoy being a confection technologist, or a food technologist in general. The Institute of Food Technology has lots of videos and interviews to show you what it’s like.

What does an Analytical Chemist do?
Analytical chemists examine substances to figure out what they’re made of. They also study how elements in a compound interact with each other. This is a valuable skill in lots of settings: pharmaceutical labs, environmental research … even the FBI!

If you have great attention to detail, and enjoy finding creative solutions to problems while making interesting discoveries about chemicals, analytical chemistry might be a good career path for you. The American Chemical Society has more on what it’s like to be an analytical chemist.

How do robot labs help get this work done?
Lab work involves lots of repetitive little tasks: adding one substance to another, mixing it for a period of time, pouring things here and moving them over to instruments for analysis. Programming robots to do this part of the work gets everything done faster, and gives the scientists more time to do the more human tasks like creative thinking, interpreting scientific data, presenting discoveries and report writing.

What courses will help me work toward jobs like this?
Virginia’s courses in biology and chemistrywill prepare you well for the college studies you will need to become an analytical chemist or product developer. To be a confection technologist, you’ll also want to check out the culinary artscourses in Virginia’s Career & Technical Education programs.

Beyond high school, you’d be wise to pursue a bachelor’s degree in chemistry to work in a setting like the one in the video. An advanced degree (a master’s or a PhD) would really give you an edge.

What local resources are available for students in Virginia who are interested in these careers?

Virginia Commonwealth University has a Health Sciences Pipeline that offers programs for students preparing to work at places like Pfizer. Check them outand see if one is right for you.

Club SciKidz Richmond has a Chemistry Concoctions program in the summer that is “all labs, no lectures” for students in 7th through 9th grade.

The MathScience Innovation Center has lots of weekend/summer programs for students to get the knowledge, experimentation and teamwork they need for jobs like these.

iD Tech hosts science camps that cover everything from coding to design to robotics—a great opportunity to explore product development with your peers. Programs are available on college campuses across the Commonwealth: Virginia Tech, University of Virginia, University of Richmond, and the College of William & Mary.

If you’re interested in working at Pfizer specifically, they have a Summer Student Worker Program at locations throughout the United States. Open to students 18 and older, the program offers challenging work assignments, giving participants the opportunity to collaborate with Pfizer colleagues at all levels of the organization.