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Veteran GE researcher leads commercialization effort in Niskayuna

Outlook

Veteran GE researcher leads commercialization effort in Niskayuna

GE Global Research taking on contract work for other companies
Veteran GE researcher leads commercialization effort in Niskayuna
Chief Scientist Amy Linsebigler in the characterization labs at GE Global Research.
Photographer: Marc SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

NISKAYUNA — A veteran researcher at GE Global Research is leading one of the newest initiatives at the River Road campus.

Chief scientist Amy Linsebigler, a General Electric researcher since 1995 and more recently a leader of other scientists, was handed the newly created role of commercial director last spring, when Global Research began taking on contract research for other companies.

With her education, training and experience entirely in science, it was a significant transition.

“It’s been a very interesting learning curve to learn how to market, learn how to sell what we do,” Linsebigler said. “I basically do everything. I get the inquires, we put together the quotes and proposals, I then work with the teams who then execute on them, then we give the results back, the end data to the customer.”

GE's decision to do contract work at Global Research came as the conglomerate was undergoing a companywide reductive reorganization, making itself a leaner and more focused company. 

The actual work done in Niskauyna is the same as always, and more than 90 percent of it is still done for GE’s component businesses, rather than non-GE companies. 

The contract research services facility, which doesn’t have a formal name, is a characterization lab – it determines the composition and characteristics of a material at the molecular level. The 32 scientists use $35 million worth of equipment to tell customers what’s in the sample of material, which is critical to know before using that material to construct a product.

MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
At right, GE Global Research, Analytical Chemist, Janell Crowder, talks about material performance, by testing materials for certain elements in the characterization labs at GE Global Research. Chief Scientist Amy Linsebigler is seen at left.
MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
At right, GE Global Research, Analytical Chemist, Janell Crowder, talks about material performance, by testing materials for certain elements in the characterization labs at GE Global Research. Chief Scientist Amy Linsebigler is seen at left.

With lasers they can heat the material to 17,500 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to vaporize any known substance, then analyze the elements individually in the resulting gas. With electron microscopes, they can enlarge samples hundreds of millions of times and examine individual atoms.

If the hunk of ceramic being examined one recent February afternoon was a chocolate chip cookie, Linsebigler explained to visitors, the team would be able to say exactly what ingredients were in the cookie and describe how evenly the chips were distributed. 

This helps determine how the ceramic will perform in the real world. The team also can go in the opposite direction, Linsebigler said, and forensically determine why something works or doesn’t work.

“We investigate what about it – from a chemistry perspective and microstructure – maybe made that perform in its environment or made it fail.”

With that initial analysis complete, the lab develops a quality control procedure for the client business, she said, determining “what analytical technique the business is going to use on a routine basis to know that they’ve made that exact material.”

She added: “That’s one of the strengths of making this an outside offering. We can pretty much pick up and do any material, do any chemistry that they would want us to analyze because of the diversity of what we handle within GE.”

More from Outlook 2019

Linsebigler, 52, is a native of Jeanette, Pennsylvania, who now lives in Halfmoon with husband Vincent and daughters Abagail and Amanda. She earned a bachelor of science in physical chemistry from Seton Hill University and a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh, then went to work in Niskayuna, at what was then named General Electric R&D.

Linsebigler started 23 years ago in the Characterization Lab, first doing surface analysis then other types of analysis. She became lab manager for chemical biological sensor development, then technology leader for both the sensing and materials characterization groups. In the spring of 2018, she was given her second role – commercial director – and also named a chief scientist for material characterization.

Marketing was never something she’d aspired to or practiced, but knowing so well the services she was selling made the transition easier.

The lab has about 15 non-GE clients now (none of whom Linsebigler can name). She travels to trade shows and expositions, but she doesn’t make cold calls and the first batch of customers mostly stepped forward on their own, because they were companies that General Electric had spun off or divested.

“It was a little easy because we had divested business that had left us, and we have people who had left us,” Linsebigler said. “They were literally calling us, asking us to execute in this way for them because they understood the difference of working with this team vs. having to work with a contract team on the outside. So I knew what the strengths were to sell or market.”

There are many other characterization labs with millions of dollars worth of equipment around the world competing for the same contract work that this new GE business is seeking.

Linsebigler said GE's competitive advantage is the 32 people she supervises. They aren’t technicians operating machinery from a playbook, they’re scientists using the machines to do their research. And they can draw from a huge pool of institutional knowledge developed by hundreds of colleagues and predecessors.

“We don’t open the playbook, we make the playbook, every single time,” Linsebigler said.

More from Outlook 2019

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