Where engineering meets art – and cooking

Have you ever wondered what amateur cooking, chemical engineering and art have in common?

Marcus Foston

Marcus Foston, who holds a BS in Polymer and Textile Chemistry and a PhD in Polymer Chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology and who loves to cook, has a very interesting notion.

“In terms of practical skills, cooking and engineering are similar,” Foston said. “Both require procedures, recipes, measuring, mixing, heating, monitoring. However, cooking – and even some chemistry – is as much a science as an art style. I get to use my instincts, improvise and apply my creative skills.”

He believes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines need to be taught from an early age, though integrated with the arts – a combination called “STEAM.”

“I would at an early stage demonstrate the inter-connectives of STEM subjects and integrate art as a key component of a STEM background,” Foston said.

“I’ve found interacting with my college students that far too often they lack the ability to take information and concepts they’ve learned, and apply them in new and unique situations to develop a solution. I feel as though this is a result of the inability to apply creativity to problem solving. A more well-rounded early education is important in developing this skill.”

In his own early education, he was inspired by his mother’s mantra on hard work. She raised him, for the most part, on her own.

“I learned what hard work meant and that the world is not supposed to be fair,” Foston said. “The most valuable thing I learned from watching my mother was that individuals only have control over their own actions, and even when it’s not enough, it’s better than nothing. So work hard for the things you want.”

He wanted to pursue academia. Now he is an assistant professor in the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering at Washington University in the School of Engineering & Applied Science. He directs research on these problems in his own lab at WashU, the Foston Lab.

“I am passionate about the science, engineering and development of new materials for existing and emerging technologies in biomass utilization. It is immensely satisfying to address what I believe to be some of the world’s most growing issues in the future, which pertain to meeting global manufacturing and energy demands in a sustainable and green manner,” Foston said.

“The idea of creatively combining the utilization of nuclear magnetic resonance and research on renewable material conversion, from the feedstock to application, is particularly exciting and provides an advantage with respect to other groups working on similar problems.”