Recently, NPR’s Planet Money aired a program on how to make a t-shirt, and two Monsanto employees helped provide background and information on the fiber that most t-shirts are made of – cotton. You can watch the Planet Money program here.
We asked both employees some questions about cotton and working at Monsanto. Yesterday, we featured cotton breeder Cindy Green. Today, scientist Brian Martinell talks about cotton and working at Monsanto.
By Brian Martinell
What would you like the people who buy this t-shirt to know about you?
I’m an agricultural scientist for Monsanto. I’ve spent my career developing novel technology in the (then new) field of biotechnology. This has led to more than a few patents and products for Monsanto. As unlikely as it sounds, I was inspired to become an agricultural scientist by an exceptional high school teacher at the Bronx High School of Science in New York City. I believe “modern high tech” agriculture is needed if we are going to sustainably feed a growing planet. Outside of work, my wife and I are committed ecologists; we’re restoring 20 acres of land (including pond, stream and springs) for wildlife. We are also avid gardeners. Our gardening obsession continues throughout the long Wisconsin winters, as we maintain four greenhouses full of orchids and tropical plants. Like many orchid enthusiasts, I grow mainly “species orchids,” and I more enjoy the challenge of successfully producing healthy plants with flowers more than seeing the flower. I guess that makes me more of an “orchid whisperer?” Well, my wife and friends enjoy the flowers, anyway!
When did you first realize that the work you were doing was making people’s lives better?
I help burn prairies in the spring, usually for friends who are restoring native Wisconsin prairies. It’s hard work but lots of fun, if you like that sort of thing. During a post-burn celebration, one farmer friend who usually “ribs me” about being a scientist said, “You want to know something about that Roundup Ready soybean of yours?” Expecting the worse, I took the bait. “You get free fire service and now come the insults?” I replied. Instead, he just said, “It made my life easy.” Wow. That was a good day!
What is it like to work at Monsanto? What’s a typical day for you?
I’m fortunate to be an inventor in the field of plant transformation for Monsanto. How cool is that? I’m not sure if a “day” ever begins or ends for an inventor. I can’t stop thinking through the interplay of steps and processes that help me better understand a system. I often dream ideas in my sleep. A typical day involves working with my team and colleagues to develop better methods to make our products. An inventor is only as good as the strong network of collaborators developed. I learned early in my career that ideas are only developed through collaboration with people who are smarter than you. Once you realize that, you become a real collaborator. Ideas and breakthrough steps in complicated processes come from great discussions with others. An additional chunk of my day goes to teaching fellow scientists. I’ve been actively involved in various mentoring and training workshops for my entire career. I developed my career with the help of many great mentors, colleagues, supervisors and teachers. I feel the obligation to return the favor.
If you would have people know one thing about Monsanto, what would it be?
Monsanto is a large diverse family of folks dedicated to making a better future in agriculture. We work collaboratively; we think globally. And we pursue excellence.