Walking with a visitor through Oregon State University's Seafood Lab in Astoria, chemist Craig Holt can not only introduce the names, hometowns, and current projects of the scientists and staff who work there, he can rattle off the life history of the equipment they use to conduct research as well.
One industrial-sized chopping and mixing machine is sometimes used by a local restaurant. The tubes that carry the coolant to a surimi processing machine had been acting a bit wonky that morning. The lab's gas chromatograph recently had some leaking problems. The new differential scanning calorimeter wasn't working quite right, and it would cost $10,000 to send it to France to have it fixed.
But Holt enjoys fiddling with such things, and as the chemist, lab manager, and maintenance man at the Seafood Laboratory, he takes pride in figuring out how to make the lab's equipment run smoothly.
"I'm sort of a 'Mr. Fix-it' around here, and if I don't know something, I'll learn," Holt said. He added that he enjoys the variety that comes with his work and the challenges that pop up working in a laboratory. In addition to repairing equipment, he orders glassware and supplies and sets up some of the experiments.
"The students are really enjoyable to work with, and they always need help with something," Holt said. "It's great to be able to help people, pretty much all day long."
Holt has been at the Seafood Laboratory for more than a year, and said he feels fortunate to have found a chemist position in Astoria.
Before this position, he had his own printing business for 11 years. Prior to that, he taught physics at Clatsop Community College, and chemistry at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham.
Teaching "was fun, but this is better," Holt said. "It's real life as opposed to experiments that are made up. Plus there's no grading."
Holt, who got his master's degree at the University of California, Berkeley, and his doctorate at the University of British Columbia, is also the secretary of the Portland chapter of the American Chemistry Society.
At age 62, Holt leads an active life outside of the lab as well. He has participated in country dancing in Astoria for 10 years, and took up Scandinavian dancing a few years ago.
He walks the mile between his house and the lab each day, and walks home at lunchtime to have his cocoa. He was the president of the Angora Hiking Club for six years, and led 18 hikes last year, some as long as 16 miles. After growing up in flat-terrained Chicago, Holt said he enjoys living in Astoria and exploring the peaks in the area, often with his son.
His grown son and daughter both live in Portland, as does a four-year-old grandson.
With no plans to retire anytime soon, Holt said that he plans to work at the Seafood Lab for as long as he can.
"I've just been trying to improve things constantly," he said. "It stretches my talents; it's a challenge."
- Kate Ramsayer