Emily spoke with me about her experience as a chemical engineer in the Cannabis industry and how failures make us successful. Tarukino represents several products in the Cannabis industry, such as the water-soluble THC and CBD that Skrobecki is working to develop. Some companies you may recognize that use the technology are Happy Apple, Pearl20, Utopia Sparkling Water and my personal favorite—Velvet Swing. New products are also in development, such as Reeb, which is a barley soda that is made with hops and is another exciting new project that Skrobecki’s work and the team at Tarukino has contributed to.
With beakers of varying size in the brightly lit workspace, Skrobecki gave the grand tour, which included a look at her equipment and workstation, where machines and technology were covered in white cloths to protect their intellectual property. She gave me a first-hand look at the water solubility of Cannabis, a project she is excited to be working on because not many people understand the chemistry. The challenge of the unknown is what drives Skrobecki to search for knowledge and dive deep into this type of science.
In her undergrad at Oregon State University, Skrobecki worked with botanical extraction, steam distillation and alcohol extraction as well. She graduated in 2015 with a degree in chemical engineering and a minor in biochemical processes. Additionally, She was a research and development chemical engineer for an edibles company, where she helped them with their internal quality assessment. Then she was a chemist for an analytical lab before she finally ended up as the manager of process engineering for Tarukino.
“COINCIDENTALLY, SHE IMAGINED HERSELF MAYBE SOMEDAY DOING HOP EXTRACTION FOR BEER MAKERS BUT EVENTUALLY FOUND HERSELF FALLING IN LOVE WITH HOPS’ COUSIN, CANNABIS.”
As a woman in science, and more specifically, Cannabis science, Skrobecki laughed when I asked her if there were lots of other women working in similar careers. She told me that she has yet to meet another wom-an who is a chemical engineer in the Cannabis industry. She explained that she is a lover of all things plants. She was inspired by another wom-an she knew who was work-ing in botanical extractions. Coincidentally, she imagined herself maybe someday doing hop extraction for beer makers but eventually found herself falling in love with hops’ cous-in, Cannabis. Her personal relationship to the plant goes beyond recreational consumption, and she describes to me the creations she’s experimented with at home. Skrobecki says that the essential oils found in Cannabis always intrigued her, which led her to formulate her own “bedtime aroma” of oils to diffuse at nighttime. Although she recognizes that science is typically male-dominated, she seems relieved to say that this is all changing. She notes that she doesn’t see the Cannabis industry as male-dominated.
“There are two different types of people on this planet,” she said. “We all have our own different traits, any human has any other type of ability. If you’re creative, you can come up with an awesome design. For someone who’s more analytical, they’ll be really good at perfecting that system.” Skrobecki recalls working with so many great men who appreciate women and their abilities, and who are excited to see women entering scientific fields because they see the benefits of working together. The only misconcep-tion men have had about Skrobecki’s ability is that some men can underes-timate her physical strength. She jokes that they assume she will break a nail while trying to un-wrench a part of the machinery. Some of them may want to realize that she could “probably beat them in an arm wrestle.” Skrobecki said lab safety is among the biggest chal-lenges she has faced while working in the legal Cannabis world. “I don’t think [lab safety] is taken very seriously. There are people work-ing with high temp and high-pressure systems. And they don’t know what to do if something goes wrong,” she said.
“If there’s an acidic spill, not everyone is very conscious on how to clean up the spill.” Skrobecki believes there aren’t many companies practicing safe methods as well as they should. She shares with me her gratitude for her team at Tarukino, who values safety as their number one priority by empowering their employees through up to date safety training. I asked Skrobecki if she thought the safety issues in the lab were due to a lack of professional schooling and training. “The internet is a glorious place these days,” she said.
There is a multitude of resources available online, such as on OSHA’s website, to teach your staff and yourself about safe lab practices. I asked Skrobecki to think back on her school-age days of the science fair and beyond, and to share with me what advice she would give her younger self. “Never stop networking,” she said. “Go outside your comfort zone, even if you show up to an event and don’t talk to anyone.” She advises her peers and others looking to advance their careers in STEM and Cannabis to keep pushing.
“Fail as many times as you can because that is your biggest learning experience,” she said. Modern science is facilitating change in the Cannabis industry at lightning speed. Terpene extraction, steam distil-lation, genetic sequencing – they seem like new technology, but scientists have been using these methods and tools for years in different applications. I’m amazed at all the different ways this technology has been applied to Cannabis, and I’m convinced that the world of science would benefit greatly if more women became involved in it.