I recently had the honour to be introduced to you all by Jane and now I - as one of the newest team members - have the pleasure to introduce Tom to you. He was the second ever member of the team and has a super-interesting job, he is our research manager. So please meet Tom and find out what he told me about his work here!
Hi! Who are you? I’m Tom. My business card says “New Product Development”, but you might also say I’m Research Manager/Head of R&D/The guy to go to for technical stuff.. I’ve been working closely with Jane on the development and improvement of Formerol Technology, including sugru, since January 2007.
Oooh that’s a curveball! What’s Formerol and what’s the difference between Formerol and sugru? Sorry! I’ll explain. In order to make sugru, we had to create a new class of silicone materials. This is our platform technology, and we call it Formerol - there’s lots of scope for customising the materials for various applications. sugru is one formulation that is super handy for general household and creative uses.
How did you end up at sugru? I was at university, doing my undergrad studies in material science & engineering at Queen Mary, University of London and was looking for part time work. I was expecting to find a typical student job in a supermarket or something, but then I discovered a job post for a lab assistant in career services. I applied and was invited for an interview with Jane and I was thrilled to be offered the job! I was in my second year in uni then, and for the rest of my course I worked closely with Jane, part-time, performing experiments with considerable assistance from our amazingly knowledgeable consultant chemist, Steve, who’s an expert in silicones having spent his entire career working with Dow Corning (a world leader in silicones technology). We tried hundreds and hundreds of formulations, most of which never lasted for more than a few days. Once we started to get stable samples, new challenges emerged such as ‘how can we make it stick to things when it cures?’ and ‘How can we pack this so that it stays fresh for as long as possible?’ After I completed my degree I was privileged to be offered a full time position with the company - bringing the full-time workforce to a grand total of 2 at the time - taking over the majority of the day to day development responsibilities, and eventually managing new recruits in the R&D team.
What’s working (and living) in East London like? I live in a cosy house with my wife Alice and our 3 kids, a 20 minute cycle away from the work. I love cycling to work, and I share half the journey with my son on his way to School. We manage to avoid almost all roads on the way by cutting through parks including Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, Mile End Park, then along the Regents Canal and through Victoria Park... a great way to start the day, and a calming way to end the day too!
What does your normal day at sugru headquarters look like? Work is really varied. In the morning, I first check my inbox (as almost everybody else in the world seems to do these days). Then there are experiments to run in the lab which often require several months of observations and data analysis to get results on stability, shelf-life and other qualities. There are quality control checks to perform on commercial sugru batches, and there’s project planning, reading and research... and yet more observations and analysis of results to do. We work closely with external test facilities, and we have a network of specialist consultants working on various projects, so I’m often catching up with them too. Our work continues to turn up exciting possibilities... I love the work we’ve done recently with Leon Paul, and the trials we’re doing with Tim Farr (the paralympic ski-er) and there are some cool things we’re working on that we hope we can share with our users in the coming months (for now this is classified information of course ;-) )
What do you like most about your job? I love sugru, and the fact that Jane invented this completely unique material. So many people I’ve spoken about sugru with, and described sugru to, say they’ve dreamed about such a thing existing, and I did too; so from the start it has been a privilege to be involved in bringing something we knew the world needed to reality. Also Jane’s such an inspirational leader, it’s always a pleasure to work with her - particularly I’m inspired by her vision and tireless determination that has got sugru to where it is now, which anyone who’s read about the story of sugru will appreciate!
What’s your favourite fix you’ve done? At the moment that’s the custom fit in ear headphones I made, and I’m told this idea might be made into a tutorial video really soon... Also I have sugru grips on my bike which I’m really pleased with!
What’s your favourite fix you’ve seen someone else do? I have to say I think the iPhone bumpers (although I have a Google Android phone which I copied the hack on) are great - oh and I’m repeatedly amazed with some of the sugru + magnet combo hacks like bike lights and cable tidys - I especially like the simple, smart hacks though, such as the pivoting fridge magnet posted on gurus.
What do you do besides working here and using sugru? Recently, with two of the kids still very young, the majority of mine and Alice’s time is naturally dedicated to giving them a fun and happy start in life. We also consider ourselves very lucky to have family that live close-by who we enjoy spending time with, and those not so close-by often come to visit. When I can, I enjoy playing sports: Tennis is my game of choice, but I absolutely love winter sports like skiing and snowboarding too. An interest I share with my eldest son is computer games, particularly we like to play football and action/adventure games together. I would also have to admit that I’m addicted to technology so I’m always trying to convince Alice that I need a new gadget... lately it's the latest tablet computer that I really ‘need’. I also try my hand at home improvement; recently building my first partition wall (with just a little help) and so far it hasn’t fallen down... probably thanks to the sugru!!