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Movers And Shakers

Trinity N. Horton

Family and mentors told this former ACS Scholar to keep moving forward; she did and still does

by A. Maureen Rouhi
August 30, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 35

Credit: Courtesy of Trinity Horton
Credit: Courtesy of Trinity Horton

“I don’t think she knows what the limit is,” says John Horton about the desire and drive to achieve that his daughter Trinity displayed even as a young girl. Now a research chemist at the Acetyls Derivatives Division of Celanese Chemicals, in Pasadena, Texas, Trinity N. Horton may soon be pushing the limits again. “I’m at the point in my career where I’m considering whether to stay in R&D,” she tells C&EN, “or work in other areas in the company.” Whatever Trinity decides, those who know her are sure she will succeed.

Success seems to have been predestined for Trinity Horton, whose family nurtured her interest in science. “We all pushed Trinity educationally,” says John Horton, who studied business and finance in college but has worked for 29 years in the laboratories of ExxonMobil, in Baton Rouge, La. As a lab technician, he now solves special problems involving polymers with the help of mass spectroscopy, X-ray techniques, and benchtop chemistry. “I’m not a trained chemist,” he says, laughing heartily. “I didn’t follow my heart,” which was on science, he says, “but since I joined Exxon, I got a lot of training.”

Given Trinity’s aptitude in math and science, and perhaps to ensure Trinity didn’t take a similar detour, John Horton introduced her to Louisiana State University chemistry professor Isiah M. Warner when she was only 14 years old. “I wanted her to see how different college looks from high school … to see what professors look like and how they live … to understand that the possibility was there” for her to have a career in science, John Horton says.

Trinity’s mother, Jodie Johnson, an accountant, got Trinity into summer high school science programs. An aunt, Gladys Johnson Sublet, now a retired math teacher, “made sure I was on top of math,” Trinity says. Another aunt, Joyce Horton Dial, now a retired English professor, “gave me a scholarship book,” she recalls. “I applied for everything that I could possibly get, and the ACS scholarship was one of them.”

The ACS Scholars Program provides up to $5,000 of assistance per year to members of underrepresented groups who are pursuing undergraduate degrees in chemistry or related fields. The support, Trinity says, “paved the way for me not to struggle in college.” She received a B.S. in chemistry from Ohio State University (OSU) in 2002. And with help from an Alfred P. Sloan fellowship, she completed an M.S. in chemistry from Purdue University in 2005, under the direction of Jon J. Wilker. She joined Celanese in June 2005.

Trinity’s proudest feat yet is completing the certification for Six Sigma Green Belt, which signifies proficiency in using statistical analysis to design focused experiments to improve project execution and plant operations.

One project involved developing an analytical method for a process in the vinyl acetate plant, says Cathy L. Tway, who was Trinity’s supervisor and is now the technical leader for the applied catalysis and materials group at Dow Chemical. Tway, Trinity says, was among the many people “telling me to keep moving forward.” The project “had to challenge a lot of dogma,” Tway says. “Trinity kept running into problem after problem, and I wouldn’t let her quit because I was sure she could do it.”

Now, Trinity is mulling what her next move forward will be. Her track record predicts success. “I’m very glad that Trinity is on the Celanese team and think our company is, and will be, better for it,” says Victor Johnston, group leader for Acetyls Intermediates R&D and Trinity’s current supervisor at Celanese.

And the “family” of folks who encourage her to push limits has grown.

“I have followed her career and I’m not surprised at the success she has experienced,” says OSU chemistry professor David J. Hart, Trinity’s undergraduate research supervisor.

“Trinity is the most determined person I have ever met,” Tway says. “She is very smart, and anything she chooses to do, she can.”

Of course, Trinity’s dad remains her staunchest supporter: “I still see more to come from her,” John Horton says. “She’s going to surprise us still.”


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