Early education in chemistry
Born to a journalist and an educator in Virginia Beach, Va., Andrew Davis says his parents were supportive and lovingly amused by his interest in the sciences, watching as he would “play with increasingly complicated technical toys and books.” He began his schooling at a local Hebrew day school, but his public high school is where he learned to love chemistry. “We had a chemistry teacher who would let us perform almost any experiment we wanted to—within reason—with the caveat that we had to explain why whatever happened happened.”
Finding a good fit
Davis stayed nearby for college, majoring in chemistry and minoring in materials science at the University of Virginia. Early on “there was a research group in the chemistry department that let me latch on and do a little bit of computational chemistry work, which was really great because it convinced me that I had no interest in computational chemistry,” he says. After graduation, happenstance led him to the corner of chemistry that would define his career. Davis did research in the summer of 2008 at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, working in the polymer science and engineering department. “I was lucky to be a part of it,” he remembers. He ended up staying there for five years, eventually getting his Ph.D.
Far from home
Davis’s first job was at the research laboratories of 3M in Minnesota, where he was a senior research engineer working on adhesives and photochemistry. His time in industry, especially the focus on results, left a lasting impression. “Measurables are something that I still think about from my industry days,” he says. After two years, Davis and his partner, a crop and soil scientist, wanted to relocate to the East Coast to be closer to family. They narrowed down a list of cities that could solve their two-body problem. Washington, D.C., made the list. Davis set up a job alert on USAJobs, a government recruitment platform. Then came a life-changing alert: The Library of Congress was looking to hire a polymer chemist.
Transition to preservation
Davis now works as a chemist in the Library of Congress’s Preservation Research & Testing Division. His training, while a good background for his position, was not preservation specific. So he learns from those around him: art historians, cultural heritage experts, preservationists, even other chemists. “It takes a little bit of figuring out how to adapt, say, a polymer science technique ... to cellulose-based papers in the library. But it gives a different vantage point and new ways of answering the same question.” In contrast to his time in industry, Davis enjoys being able to share the nitty-gritty of his research with scientists in industry and academia. “I think that’s one reason why I enjoy being at the library so much is that the library’s bigger mission is making knowledge accessible, making its collections accessible.”