Peter Steeves – Plastics Engineer, Radical Plastics
Q: How did you first become involved at Radical Plastics?
Peter: The way we met is kind of cool. Radical Plastics had outsourced the material compounding to UMass Lowell (UML). As part of my summer research, I was running the extruder they were using. We were helping them compound a biodegradable material and that was extremely intriguing. Once my summer research ended and my senior year began, I reached out to the company to ask if they had any availability. I said ‘I love what you guys are doing, I would love to get involved.’ They seemed to reciprocate that energy and I was actually the first person they hired as an intern.
Q: What was the transition like from intern to full-time employee?
I, personally, am holding myself to higher responsibility. That’s very important because, with a company of this size, everybody has a ton on their plates, especially my boss. That means I may have to help drive some of the technical operations, so that she can focus on some other aspects of what we’re doing. It’s important to take some initiative.
Q: What do you work on the majority of the time?
Officially, I’m the plastics engineer, but I also work with the materials and processing operations. We have to wear a lot of hats since we’re a small company. We have the whole rundown of what we do in the lab, in terms of compiling the material and then analyzing to ensure it falls within our specs for not only physical properties, but for the biodegradation aspect as well. A majority of my time is following through with that work, which is more what a lab tech would do. Then, designing the experiment and analyzing the data falls under the engineer role, but it all plays together.
Q: What attracted you to Radical Plastics?
My drive stemmed from the extremely large pollution issue that is enveloping this globe. I had very little knowledge of plastics before I joined the plastics engineering program at UML because it’s not something you think about every day. In classes we started to learn that plastic is in everything. I did a paper on the gyres in the ocean – the plastic islands – places where the currents join and all the plastic flows and joins like massive islands. That became a catalyst into addressing plastic pollution because people were not taking it seriously for the longest time. Those plastic islands in the ocean, the effect on animals, and social media causing a lot of people to see it is what really shifted things for me.
Q: What first attracted you to plastics engineering?
I was originally planning on doing chemical engineering because I had taken a bunch of chemistry classes. At the UMass Lowell orientation for engineers, besides meeting other engineering students, you could pick which tour you wanted to take for the different engineering disciplines. I decided to go with the plastics engineering tour because they were so passionate. At the end of the tour, one of the major professors gave a brief speech saying that this industry is growing immensely and will continue to grow. It just seemed like a good opportunity.
Q: Do you want to go back to school?
No, I have my masters. A Ph.D would take three to six years. In my mind that’s a large chunk of time. This time period we live in, these few years are a pivot point for the future so I’d rather be trying to attack the issue as opposed to continuing classes.
Q: What advice would you give to somebody just starting out in your field?
Make sure you’re interested in what you’re doing. When I was searching for jobs, I was not at all expecting to find something that I was going to greatly enjoy spending my time on. I was more willing to accept a position at some random company and build my way up from there. However, I would definitely say it’s worth putting in the effort to find a place that you really enjoy or a job that can accommodate the type of work that you would ideally want to do.
Q: What is your favorite movie?
Inception. That movie was mind-blowing to me. I’m very interested in dreams. I think dreams hold a lot of potential, so them going into dreams and actually being able to control what’s going on is a cool concept.
Q: What is your favorite hobby?
Basketball. It’s literally something I’ve been doing my whole life. Back when I lived in Pepperell, we had a hoop right next to the house and I’d shoot on that. My goal was always to be shooting or watching basketball games.