When Karl moved to Johnson Matthey in 2002 it opened new possibilities for him that he hadn't imagined when he left university

Karl Oatley, BSc Chemistry from the University of Hull; joined Johnson Matthey in 2002 as a Research Officer

When I left university the job market was a little supressed and after working in non-chemistry jobs for a year I took a role looking mainly at traditional wet analytical chemistry with some instrumental based analysis in order to gain some relevant experience.

After a year or so a position came about in a global chemical company, a division of which would later be acquired by Johnson Matthey, working on a novel route to acrylics. It meant moving location but the future opportunities outweighed the short term inconvenience.

Scaling technologies

For several years I worked on pilot scale testing of this new production route, as a team we optimised the catalyst formulation and its operating conditions. The testing requirement for the project came to an end and I moved into a scale up role for an ammonia oxidation catalyst. The acrylic production route went on to be commercialised and there are full scale plants operating the process.

It was a big change moving from laboratory scale testing but it gave me a lot of experience in catalyst manufacturing techniques and scale up of laboratory formulations. Understanding how catalysts are made can be vital in understanding their limitations. Again this project came to an end as the process went onto a commercial product and I returned to pilot plant operation, this time covering a larger range of different applications including hydrogenation and dehydrogenation reactions.

The move to Johnson Matthey

When the division of the company I worked for was acquired by Johnson Matthey in 2002 this opened up many new opportunities and some very different chemistry to work on. Traditionally base metal catalysts dominated my work but now pgm catalysts were available too.

I continued to run pilot plant reactors until 2007 when a position outside of R&D interested me. This role was offering technical support to customers on full scale plants and also to the sales teams. It was essentially a vast scale up of all the testing I had been running for several years. There was a lot to learn, especially around the engineering side but my previous experience gave me an excellent grounding to build upon.

Believing in potential

With the support from my co-workers and belief in my capabilities from management I am in a role I never imagined when I left university. I have a fulfilling role that I enjoy with the opportunity to work closely with customers, R&D and sales teams around the world. I don't know what is next for my career but I can't wait to find out.