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  • October, 2023
  • Maravai LifeSciences
  • Article

In the spirit of Chemistry Week this week, we’re shining a spotlight on chemist and Product Manager at TriLink BioTechnologies, Kieche O’Connell, PhD, who’s bringing a touch of magic to the world of chemistry education with her innovative concept known as “Catoms,” where cats take on the personalities of atoms to help teach kids about scientific elements, what they do and how they interact with each other. 

Kieche’s journey is that of unexpected turns, leading her to explore a world where chemistry and education combine. Her unique approach to science education is a fusion of innovation and a passion for nurturing the curiosity of the next generation.

catoms science game with cartoon character cats

A chemistry journey beyond expectations

Kieche’s path began with her earning her PhD in physical chemistry from UCLA. She studied nanoemulsions and expected to work in drug delivery research upon graduation, but while interviewing for jobs, she became intrigued by some unusual opportunities. Kieche interviewed for a role with the Navy as a corrosion subject matter expert, an area somewhat unrelated to her academic focus. A surprising question arose during the interview: “Are you afraid of heights?” Kieche soon discovered that this position demanded more than data analysis, technical proficiency, and strong interpersonal skills; it also required her to conquer her fear of heights, involving scaling towering radio towers averaging 1,000 feet worldwide. 

Besides the physical demands of the job, Kieche’s list of responsibilities included finding innovative solutions for common problems, authoring grant proposals to secure funding for testing, and evaluating new corrosion prevention methods. Ultimately, this role’s responsibilities and unexpected experiences exposed her to diverse skills and found her directing policy for best practices in corrosion prevention. Having a growth mindset and embracing change were the keys to unlocking these new skills and experiences that made this transition possible. They also helped her to imagine new possibilities for her career path.

Embracing change and expanding horizons

Although she appreciated this challenging and exciting role for over a decade, she decided to change gears to something she felt would have more impact and be more aligned with her interests. Recognizing her passion for business strategy and love of working with people, Kieche decided to pivot her career by starting an MBA program, allowing her to gain a fresh perspective and transition from a technical role to a management position. The program was not only educational but also led her to discover her affinity for corporate strategy cases and her deep enjoyment of collaborating with teams. Biotech seemed like the perfect fit as it combined diverse teamwork, business strategy, and her chemistry background.

Kieche joined the Maravai family in 2022 as a product manager at TriLink Biotechnologies, focused on oligonucleotides, where she has been able to meld her first love of science with her new managerial skills. 

woman in scientific lab

Catoms: educating and inspiring

But what sets Kieche apart is her creation, “Catoms.” This ingenious concept has manifested as a captivating universe of cats, where each feline represents a different element and embodies a corresponding “personality” aligned with the behavior of the element itself. Her brainchild offers a fun and immersive approach to teaching children about the periodic table.

With her graphic designer nephew, Kieche has brought Catoms to life with fun storylines, character interactions, and engaging games that promise to make the learning experience truly enjoyable. There are 118 elements to explore and collect in this dynamic world, targeting curious minds in the age range of 6 to 11.

Catoms science game of trading cards on periodic elements

At Maravai, we take pride in not only showcasing the multifaceted journey of Kieche but also her unwavering commitment to nurturing the scientific curiosity of the next generation. Her career path is an excellent example of how different life experiences can sometimes lead to unexpected shifts in one’s trajectory. Yet, it’s precisely these experiences that bring a special and invaluable difference to our companies. 

Connect with Kieche on LinkedIn, and stay tuned for more exciting stories about our #MiracleMakers.