The Chemistry of Coffee
Chemical engineer Rosalind “Roz” Jones ’86 explains the science behind Happy Meal toys and more
Tuesday, February 23, 2021
rosalind jones does jazz hands in her all-female a cappella group. all members are on stage wearing black against a blue backdrop

It is difficult to write a profile of Rosalind “Roz” Jones ‘86. 

I mean, I can tell you facts about Roz Jones. 

She is a chemical engineer who worked for Dow Chemical for twenty years—she has remarkable insights into big corporate culture and practices—where she was primarily engaged in plastics research, and she now works for the smaller firm Trimeric. Trimeric “serves any industry that needs chemical engineering,” such as oil and gas, the food industry, and carbon capture technologies. “And then there’s my favorite, the biomass-to-fuel-type folks…They have their process of how to convert it to fuel, they know how to do that in their beakers, but they don’t know how to scale that up, so we help them to scale up that design. What that’s going to look like, what that’s going to cost, those types of things,” Roz explains. She also says, “I’m very passionate about safety…I facilitate process hazard safety reviews.” She wants to ensure the industries they work with are as safe as possible, so she evaluates their practices and tells them how they can improve them.

Roz has lived in Austin for many years and has been a member of a number of different choral groups in Lake Jackson, San Antonio, and Houston. She’s now been a member of the international a cappella group Sweet Adelines for 25 years and co-founded another a cappella group, A Cappella Unlimited, which placed second in the International Harmony Classic, Division A competition in 2019 in New Orleans. (We both love the spooky aspects of the French Quarter, and she has a heck of a story about “meeting” long-dead Marie Laveau, the famous voodoo queen; it’s hair raising.)

I can tell you Jones liked the entire Trinity chemistry department faculty but has particular gratefulness for Dr. Mahbub Uddin, who still teaches at Trinity. She said it was “impossible to fail in that man’s presence. It was his role for you to learn, not to eliminate you from the program. He was going to give that individual attention to every student, and he was going to be available.” He has remained a positive presence in Roz’s life throughout her career, still responsive, helpful, and “bubbly.” Which makes him, in my view, the very image of the best professors Trinity offers; they are one reason being a Trinity alum is such a special thing. There’s a “cache” in having gone to Trinity, as Roz said, but those relationships we’re able to build there, with professors who are passionate about both their fields and teaching, make our experience lastingly valuable.

These are all facts and truths of Roz, but writing a profile of her is difficult because it is by nature reductive, and Roz is not a woman who can ever be reduced to a nutshell. I can say this with certainty: she is curious and she is a creative problem solver, both by profession and nature. Roz also has a storytelling style that often skews away from judgment or pronouncement to allow facts to speak for themselves; it’s a powerful way to communicate and allows the listener to draw their own conclusions. 
She also uses her curiosity in Sweet Adelines. The organization now recognizes that some older songs have content and themes that are no longer appropriate or acceptable. The organization has developed a tool kit that facilitates research into and study of the songs. “In order to perform a song, you have to know what the song is really about. And so we actually do things like write the song down like a poem; look up who wrote the words, who wrote the music, who arranged the music; what was happening in the time when this song was written; who are the people who have performed it; what types of musical genres has it been performed in. It really makes a song different when you perform it to know that hey, this person wrote this song when they were travelling from Europe to the U.S. to immigrate; you perform better.” 

Her entire career of chemical engineering is one of creative problem solving by definition, but there are myriad other situations in which she has brought her creative mind to bear. Once she was asked to speak to a group of children for a career day event and, she says, “At the time I was working on a polymer that was going to go into McDonald’s Happy Meal toys. So I hold up these Happy Meal toys, and all the kids are excited because they know what these are, and I ask them, ‘What do you like about these? And what do you not like?’ And one of the kids says, ‘Oh well they break, the paint comes off, those types of things.’ And I was able to show them what I do for a living as a researcher in plastics that are going to make Happy Meal toys that they will be able to get when they go to McDonald’s.” 

My final example of her creative approach to an issue is a personal one. We were talking about our love of coffee, and I told her that something had apparently changed in me because I had found that I had a deteriorating ability to constitutionally handle coffee. It had begun to invariably make me agitated.

Here was our subsequent exchange:

RJ: “You think about this. Coffee comes from a bean that grows on a tree. And I wonder sometimes, especially if you drink the same coffee, all the time, it’s never the same. It can’t be the same. That tree, if it grew something in 2015 and it was really yummy and you loved it and it was great for your body, with all the weather changes that are occurring, and the soil is different, and different birds came by, nature’s different. That coffee, even if they try, is going to be a little different in 2021. I always think of that.”

EF: “Because you’re a chemist and it would never occur to me!”

Thanks to her perspective, a chemical perspective communicated to a scientifically challenged woman, I changed coffee brands, and I write this comfortably after my second cup. 

Emily Fitzgerald '95 received her bachelor's degree in drama at Trinity with a focus on dramatic literature (and acting/directing). She has a master's degree in dramatic lit from UW-Madison as well as a juris doctorate from St. Mary’s, where she was on the law review.

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