NTID AlumniNews

Chemistry alum dedicated to public health and food safety

Jingjing Pan poses next to colorful flowers
Provided photo

For the past decade, Jingjing Pan ’06 (chemistry), ’09 (chemistry) has worked as a chemist for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a federal government agency with the mission of ensuring food safety and protecting the public health. Originally from China, Pan’s interest in chemistry began in her childhood when she read magazines about science. 

As she mastered the science field at RIT/NTID, Pan acquired hands-on professional chemistry-related work experience through cooperative education (co-op) assignments with Merck, Stanford University, and Tufts University. After completing her master’s degree in chemistry, she landed a job at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in the Washington State area prior to joining the FDA in Massachusetts in 2014. 

As a chemist at FDA, Pan focuses on analyzing food samples to identify potentially harmful radioactive contaminants in foods. With her dedication to food safety, she volunteered with the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN) that supports the nation’s food testing laboratories to detect, identify, respond to and recover from a bioterrorism or public health emergency involving the food supply.

Why did you want to become a chemist?  

During my childhood, my father purchased "Juvenile Science Pictorial" and "We Love Science" magazines for me every month, which developed my interest in science. Since then, I aspired to become a scientist. At school, I met my first chemistry teacher, and she was wonderful. Her frequent lab demonstrations in class captivated me, making me think chemistry was like magic. This sparked my interest and eventually grew into a deep love for chemistry. Upon entering RIT/NTID, I initially pursued studies in applied computer technology that I found it enjoyable. However, driven by my passion for chemistry, I chose to major in chemistry for my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I was fortunate to meet my wonderful chemistry advisor, Gail Binder. She was encouraging and supportive throughout my time with her. In short, my curiosity about the world of chemistry is what drove me to pursue it as a career. 

You graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry from RIT. How did your education at RIT help you prepare for a career in chemistry?  

My education in chemistry, both at the bachelor's and master's level, has provided me with a solid foundation of the fundamental principles. I also gained hands-on experience in conducting experiments, analyzing data, and problem-solving, which are essential skills for any career in chemistry. Through coursework, seminars, and thesis research for my master's degree, I gained expertise in designing, executing, and interpreting data. Finally, RIT offered me excellent co-op opportunities. I have had experiences at Tufts University, Stanford University, and Merck, expanding my knowledge beyond textbooks. NTID offered me a fellowship to pursue a master's degree. This allowed me to delve deeper into chemistry and dedicate more time to piano lessons.

You have been working for the Food and Drug Administration for almost 10 years. What’s typical workday like? 

A typical workday may vary depending on tasks. In the morning, I test samples of domestic and imported food for radioactive analysis to ensure public health safety, or I help with development of a new method. Additionally, I engage in tasks related to the quality management information system, such as writing Laboratory Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), reviewing and validating sample worksheets, forms, and databases, addressing any issues, and collaborating with team members. I also handle the purchasing of chemicals and lab supplies to ensure accuracy and smooth workflow. Furthermore, I have developed a crucial method and serve as a method monitor, training chemists and providing advisory support. I monitor quality control trend charts to ensure that quality assurance is under good control.

Throughout the year, there are opportunities for travel to attend trainings, conferences and special details. Sometimes, I spend 3-5 days at conferences to make presentations, meet experts, participate in workshops, and participate in special investigation details that may last 30 days to three months or longer. 

What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of your job?

The most challenging part of my job at the FDA involves research, particularly the development of the mission-critical and new strontium-90 testing method. I addressed these challenges by making suggestions, modifying laboratory procedures, and held team meetings to report progress. The method was published in a peer-reviewed research and scientific journal. 

The most rewarding part of my job at FDA includes the new strontium-90 testing method I developed successfully. This method significantly enhances both food safety for public health and chemist safety. We received the Department of Health and Human Services Green Chemistry Mention Honor Award.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

I have so many accomplishments that I am proud of.

One of my proudest achievements is developing the mission-critical and new strontium-90 testing method, a robust, green, and innovative approach that replaced the outdated strontium-90 testing method. It eliminates tedious and intensive labor and reduces the use of hazardous chemicals such as fuming nitric acid, hydrofluoric acids, and organic solvents, which led to a substantial reduction in dangerous liquid wastes. Additionally, it decreases water usage through the use of cost-effective disposable labware. I went on a field investigation detail, which is another way to protect American health. 

I participated in the FDA diversity celebration to present how to overcome disability and show work performance. I showed my art paintings and a video of my piano performance and taught American Sign Language. I created training videos with captions to teach chemists a new mission-critical lab method that I developed. I presented scientific posters at national and international conferences. My artwork was recently selected to be included in the FDA Spring Art Gallery virtual art show. I was featured in an “I Am ORA Profile” on the FDA website. I also volunteered in an activity with the Food Emergency Response Network.

What is your favorite memory of your college experience at RIT/NTID?

Looking back on my time at RIT, many memories bring a smile to my face. 

Speech therapy was an enjoyable and enriching experience for me. My speech teacher, Jacquelyn Kelly, provided a platform for me to practice spoken English, ultimately enhancing my communication skills, which have proven invaluable in my career.

My unforgettable moment occurred when I was invited to perform a piano solo at a prestigious scholarship banquet. My heartfelt rendition of "Till There Was You" not only received enthusiastic applause, but also transformed me into a shining star, filling me with pride and confidence. The RIT website featured a picture of me and my generous scholarship donor.

Before enrolling at RIT, I didn’t know how to swim. I decided to take swimming lessons, and later I loved swimming. My swimming instructor was patient, teaching me for one quarter until I could swim through the water like a happy fish. 

What advice do you have for students who may be interesting in pursuing a career in chemistry or science?

Be curious, do something you enjoy, and remember that persistence is a path to victory. Whichever career you wish to pursue, the government offers many travel opportunities, especially for those interested in science or chemistry. Finding a career path and getting a foot in the door can open many doors in other government agencies and positions. Being a government chemist has given me unique experiences and skills needed every day at the FDA. 

What is something that people would be surprised to learn about you? 

Despite being deaf since the age of one, I play the piano exceptionally well. I am fluent in English, Chinese, Japanese, and American Sign Language.


Latest Stories

RIT graduate Liam Coleman was looking for a way to express how it feels to be caught within one’s own thoughts about navigating identity. As a Deaf person, Coleman ’19 (individualized program) questioned the role that signing or voicing plays with how they interact with the world and their gender expression.

RIT/NTID alum Jon Mosholder ’09 (business) has a strong entrepreneurial spirit, putting his business degree to work running Bumbleberry Farms, which was founded by his mother, Karen, in 2011. 

Studying abroad can open doors to new adventures and experiences for any student. For Sarah Sabal, her experiences helped solidify and reinforce her sense of self.

Michael Rizzolo didn’t plan on learning American Sign Language when he came to RIT as a student, but he grew interested and eventually became an interpreter. Today, he is founder and CEO of the interpreting agency Interpretek.