We spoke with Dr. Boschitsch to discover more about her background, innovative technology, and passion for an environmentally-conscious approach to science and technology.
Tell us a little about your upbringing, where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in New Jersey — a little sliver of Central Jersey. I grew up in Cranberry, which is such a small town that actually didn’t have a high school, so people in my graduating year all went to Princeton High School.
When did science/chemistry become a part of your life?
I’d say I was pretty interested from a fairly young age. I was homeschooled by my mother until third grade, and she always likes to tell the story about a day we were in the backyard playing with little toy rockets. I actually loved it so much that my mom decided to make the rest of the day’s lesson about rockets.; From that age, learning about these complex systems was just so fascinating to me. My mom was always my biggest fan and started to call me a “little engineer” growing up.
My father was also very mechanically handy and often taught me how to do minor things here and there throughout my childhood. I think I just naturally picked up on it all, and really enjoyed it too. I remember having a fondness for watching Bill Nye as well as a specific episode of Mr. Rogers that featured how crayons are made. It was absolutely captivating to me to learn how things are made and building—taking things apart. It was so fun for me.
What experiences and people led you to where you are today?
As I mentioned, my parents were major influences in my life. My dad was a mechanical engineer so from a young age I was shown meshes, simulations, graphs, and just kind of found many of the structural mechanic concepts to be cool. My mom doesn’t have a technical background, but she’d always call me “Dr. Birgitt” as a child and was just always my biggest supporter. When heading into college I wasn’t entirely sure of which professional track to pursue. I found myself at a crossroads between pre-medicine and various engineering fields. I sought to find courses that focus more on fundamental engineering that I’d be able to utilize in a wider array of applications. I think my inspiration to enter graduate school came to me upon attending a research lab led by Professor Alexander Smith while studying at Princeton. I’d say it was my first real research experience and it was so eye-opening in the sense of finding that direction. Realizing the potential of opportunities that come with engineering are endless — if you have any concept in mind, it’s very likely you can achieve it in some way. At the time, my now Co-founder Tak-Sing was my research advisor, and he played such a massive role in nearly everything I’m interested in today. I eventually decided to join his research group as a result of the way he was able to impact the way I view science as a tool and the significance of connecting material engineering to the real world.
What inspires and motivates you to work in this field?
I have a two-pronged motivation, resting between my passion for science in general and my desire to solve problems that help people. To me, helping those around me is how I show I care, and that's what really drives me to try and assist people every single day. It means a lot to me to work toward providing a meaningful service and positive impact to more fundamental, human issues, like global crises.
What does the environment mean to you?
In practical terms, when I think about the environment, I think about living things like people, plants, animals, and then everything else that supports their lives and wellbeing. I like to use soil as an example — while it isn’t necessarily alive, it is still home to many living things. Furthermore, soil supports trees which in turn contributes to the livelihood of animals and humans. It all fits together to keep everything in our environment content and alive.
What should the environment mean to everyone?
Humans are one of, if not the most creative species on this earth, which is a beautiful thing. I personally think that it's amazing how we are able to create and connect things from all different fields; however, despite being such highly intelligent and innovative beings, we still must take care of our surroundings. It goes beyond simply being able to value the things around us the same way we value people, but to take environmental stewardship and hold ourselves responsible for taking care of our home.
We have so much influence over our environment, therefore it needs to be something we value in order to take care of it properly. What matters most is loving something that we are stewards of, and to meld the tools of science and technology together to solve everyday problems. Moving forward, we need to adopt more of an environmental stewardship mindset and treat our environment as something precious as opposed to something we solely just exist within or can do whatever we want with.
"The outcome of such a creative and structured approach is that our bio-inspired coatings establish a new concept of prevention within the industry by introducing new formulas and advanced technology. We are eager to revamp the efficiency of cleaning routines worldwide without using toxins and chemicals."
Why should consumers care — not only about saving the environment, but about changing their cleaning habits at the same time?
I think the common notion across society is that everything we do as individuals seems like small contributions toward larger challenges and efforts. With that being said, there needs to be more self-awareness of our own eco-friendliness and environmental consciousness. It’s not just about doing our part, but to further spread awareness in addressing environmental issues and thinking more considerately about our decisions.
When it comes to cleaning, we should try to change our habits by thinking about prevention in terms of simplifying our routines while cutting down our waste at the same time. We’ve thought about how we can keep surfaces clean without water, energy, and chemical waste. Our concept of a preventative coating is new within the cleaning realm yet has existed in other industries for a while now. Think of it as if the surface just kept itself clean, then you wouldn't need to do all that goes into actively cleaning it.
We want people to recognize that reducing waste alone has such an enormous environmental impact, even if it feels like just a small individual contribution, and how cleaning is a major aspect of battling this overarching issue.
What is the most challenging part of the work you do?
The most difficult things that come with my work are the technology and science itself, while trying to attract consumers simultaneously. It is a two-legged challenge where we must first develop an effective technical solution, then successfully bring it to the market. I like to take a very holistic approach to finding what applications are needed to solve problems while being able to communicate the value of the finished product to customers. We are tasked with finding business partners, manufacturers, and others that want to incorporate our coating into their products and utilize them as such. When doing this, we seek to emphasize our purpose as being larger than just creating solutions for problems but holding them at a price point where consumers actually want to adopt our coating theory and practice.
At this stage in your career, what do you view as your biggest success?
I think our proudest moment was when a colleague’s dissertation project was published in a scientific paper and debuted the new concept and technology. This paper was published at the same time as our first product launch, and we expected the press to be somewhat effective in attracting a couple hundred potential consumers. However, our expectations were completely surpassed by tons of orders — It was a really awesome moment for us to be able to introduce our technology to the real world with real buying customers.
Seeing the technology go from the lab to everyday households is very gratifying and validating from a consumer perspective. It’s really cool being an early-stage company, and still being able to provide a service to large companies who’ve never seen this kind of technical approach before. Whenever our technology gets into someone else’s hands and they realize its potential, that is a success to me.
Looking ahead, what is your overarching goal for the future?
Here at spotLESS, our goal is to get our coating onto as many potentially dirty surfaces as possible. At the same time, we are driven to eliminate all waste associated with cleaning, hence why our technology and company is so specifically focused on the environment. I hope to see us grow globally and uphold the most powerful impact possible. As for the industry, I want to see the expansive potential of biomimicry and bio-inspired materials/tools in contributing positive influences on the environment — to realize the value behind creative and useful technology developed in labs across the world. The industry must continue to strive to influence society in becoming more environmentally conscious and establish more creative ways to approach science and products.
The world is such a beautiful and amazing thing. There is so much to learn from the natural world that you also want to protect it and keep it in mind when creating technologies that will interact with the environment. We look to nature and learn from it to solve problems; so, it really is an honor to be a part of propelling this technology and product into the market in order to sustainably promote the company and our science behind it.
Dr. Boschitsch, thank you for your time!