Scientists Rock! is a monthly Q&A where we pull an AbbVie scientist out of the lab to hear what makes them tick. This month, we chat with Joshua Coppola, scientist, engineering, lab automation, AbbVie.
Military veteran and one-time soldier, Joshua Coppola, once risked life and limb to perform adventurous airplane jumps, bombs defusals and life-saving missions. Now a retired serviceman, he utilizes his formidable military experience, intellectual savvy and superb engineering skills to confront a different kind of battleground: innovation, automation and the next great medicine.
Tell us the story of how you fell in love with science.
From a very early age, I always remember living my life as one big science experiment. When one of life’s many mysteries would present itself, I would pose a question, conduct some research, perform some real-world ‘experiments,’ collect the necessary evidence and draw my final conclusions … then rinse and repeat for the next unsolved problem. People are always building on past experiences, so I always made sure to keep my mind open to life’s many possibilities, continuing to learn and grow from my many successes and failures.
I hear through the grapevine you’re not only a retired Army veteran, but that you used to jump out of planes and defuse bombs! You sound like a real-life MacGyver! What was it like to spend some time in the military?
I joined the United States Army right out of high school and ended up serving a total of 9 years. In addition to being stationed in North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Alabama, I also spent time in Iraq during two different tours. During my first tour as Airborne Infantryman with the 82nd Airborne, I held many positions -- rifleman, grenadier, machine gunner, RTO (radio telephone operator). Being Airborne simply meant I was jumping out of planes, although never dramatically jumping into combat like you might see on television or the big screen. I also spent time as an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) Technician supporting both the 1st and 3rd Infantry Divisions. The role of an EOD technician requires a willingness to put your life on the line for the protection of personnel and property and requires expertise in rendering safe Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive hazards. The easiest of my days consisted of blowing up hazards on military installations in impact zones (or areas designed specifically for explosions). On more difficult days, I might be tasked with carrying out (by hand) loads of armed anti-tank rounds hoarded in someone’s home to prevent half a city block from blowing up.
Contrary to popular belief, defusing bombs is usually not as dramatic as portrayed in the movies. There are very few times in the history of bomb squads where someone is struggling over whether to cut the blue or the red wire. In addition, robots, remote procedures and de-arming techniques are employed to ensure safety and to minimize any potential hazards. On those rare occasions when the safest techniques were a non-option, and the job became extremely dangerous, I would be expected to use my technical savvy and creative problem-solving skills to resolve the situation.