Staff Orbital: Lara-Jaime’s Chemistry Background Ensures Labs Thrive

January 31, 2022
Portrait of a woman

For Teresa Lara-Jaime, it’s all about experiments, safety, and cleanliness. She manages the organic and general chemistry labs for the Department of Chemistry’s undergraduate program. It is go-go-go as she and her team prepare bench and chemical fume hood spaces, computers, and apparatus for some 500 students every week.

We caught up with Teresa in the mammoth-sized labs among the high-tech equipment in Science Hill’s Sterling Chemistry Laboratory to discover how her chemistry expertise facilitates an efficient and safe learning environment.

TITLE Manager of Undergraduate Chemistry Laboratories
YEARS AT YALE 8 total, 5 in Chemistry

What do your job responsibilities entail?

I provide support to faculty and students in the chemistry laboratories. I make sure that equipment, computers, labware, and facilities are ready and functioning under safe conditions and following regulations. I train students and teaching assistants to use the equipment. I also supervise students when they’re doing their experiments to ensure safety.

I manage two lab assistants, who set up everything for each student every day. They stock all the drawers, clean dirty glassware, and provide all the PPE for students – gloves, safety glasses, and masks for about ten experiments per semester.

For organic chemistry laboratories, the students have their own glassware and equipment in the drawers under the chemical fume hoods where they work with volatile chemicals. We have a total of 72 hoods for the students, and they do on average 230 experiments per week.

The work in the general chemistry labs is mostly done on the bench, with aqueous solutions. The average amount of students for this class is 250.

I’m also doing the management training program Managing at Yale.

What is your chemistry background?

I worked for 24 years in the pharmaceutical industry at Syntex-Roche as a chemist and radiochemist in research. Then I worked for three years in the Radiology Department at Yale as a quality control chemist for radiotracers in animals and human studies for positron emission tomography.

How did the labs change during the pandemic?

We went down to half capacity and doubled our resources – bottles, balances, melting points, everything – to stay at a safe distance in the labs. We alternated hood stations and utilized the empty ones as personal waste space to keep students from crossing each other’s paths. There was a lot of work involved.

What’s something about your job you wish people knew?

We provide services to more than 1,000 students per year for 10 different classes supporting 5 – 6 faculty. We also collaborate with other groups that use our facilities for experiments, like Pathways to Science. Every week, we support about 500 students, and during the summer, we support at least four classes.

There’s a misconception that during recess or summer, we don’t work, but that is when we service our equipment, order chemicals, check the facilities, write SOPs (standard operating procedures) for equipment, check drawers, and more.

We clean everything – all the benches, all the hoods, glassware, labware, equipment. We are very proud of our labs, which are very, very clean compared to many other labs.

Do you have a particular project you enjoyed working on in the labs?

I like testing new experiments that faculty want to implement in their curriculum.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I enjoy training and mentoring students in the lab, student workers, and graduate students.

To get an idea of the lab spaces Teresa manages, view the photos from the Sterling Chemistry Lab renovation.