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Per Ryberg takes a close look at catalysis

Per Ryberg

22 May 2012

What does your current job involve?
I hold a position as Associate Principal Scientist working with process development at Chemical Sciences, AstraZeneca, Södertälje, Sweden, where I'm leading the AstraZeneca catalyst screening team. We provide automated high throughput screening and development of catalysts for various transition metal catalysed reactions as a global service to chemists within the company, worldwide.

Did you have an interest in science from childhood?
Definitely. For as long as I can remember I've had a fascination with all aspects of science and nature. I had aquariums, tame crows, grew carnivorous plants, and I did chemistry experiments in my parents' garage.

How did you decide that you wanted a career in science?
I have always had a desire to understand why things are the way they are, and to set up hypotheses and design experiments to test them. It wasn't obvious from the beginning that I should focus on chemistry, it could have been biology or physics, but chemistry was easy for me, and it had the right level of detail and structure.

What motivated you to pursue postgraduate studies?
The desire to learn more, develop new areas of science, meet other scientists and to be a part of the scientific community.

What are the most important things you've learned in your career so far?
You can't do everything on your own. Find out your colleagues' competences, collaborate and build close contacts both within and outside your company. Be open-minded to other people's way of doing things and learn from them. Be pro-active and take initiative, don't wait for someone to offer you an opportunity.

What would you say have been the key milestones in your career?
Setting up a state-of-the-art, high throughput catalyst screening lab at AstraZeneca, and successfully leading a specialist team providing a world-class catalyst screening service for internal projects. Access to the service has enabled chemists within the company to more efficiently utilise catalytic methodology, leading to large cost savings and faster progress of internal R&D projects.

A few years ago I developed an improved method for palladium-catalysed cyanation of aryl halides, which for the first time allowed this highly useful reaction to be performed at large scale, under mild conditions. I have received internal AstraZeneca science and technology awards, and I received the Bjurzon award for best PhD thesis of the year (2002) within the faculty of science and technology at Uppsala University, Sweden.

What key things would a young person need to do if they wanted to get to the position you've achieved thus far?
Keep learning. Don't specialise in one topic too early, try to get as much wide-ranging experience as possible. It is perhaps not the fastest career path, but it makes you much more complete as a scientist, and I think it will pay off in the end. Don't be afraid of trying new things. Set clear goals for what you want to achieve both short-term and long-term, and let your manager know.

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