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 Jennifer Van Camp, Ph.D., director, information research, AbbVie.
What do two energetic educators, a batch of melting ice cubes and a brush with high school chemistry have in common? The genesis of Jennifer Van Camp’s career in data science.
Tell us the story of how you fell in love with science.
I still vividly remember my middle school science teacher, Mrs. J, who presented us with a seemingly simple assignment one fateful Friday afternoon: “How do ice cubes cool your drink?” I went home and immediately pulled out the World Book Encyclopedia and started reading about the melting process of ice. The fact that ice absorbed heat rather than transmitting “coldness” made instant sense, and I found it fascinating. Little did I know that this would be my first lesson in thermodynamics!
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was young, I always thought I would grow up to be a teacher. In fact, I used to homeschool my stuffed animals in math. Once I got to high school, I thought about becoming a physician (like most of my classmates). However, doing the simple blood typing experiment in biology class quickly made me realize that working with blood was not my life’s calling. Luckily, I had the most amazing chemistry teacher for two years. Mr. Z always made our class exciting with hands-on experiments and story problems that required mathematical solutions. Since no one in my family had any connection to (or interest in) science, he took the time to tell me about college majors in the physical sciences. Even when I chose to major in chemistry, I wasn’t sure where that would lead. Everything became crystal clear when I took my first medicinal chemistry course. The fact that I could, one day, design molecules that influence complex biological mechanisms was transformational.