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Ian Klein ’10 (Purdue Research Foundation photo, courtesy Purdue University)

2010 Grad Makes This Year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 List

Ian Klein ’10 credits the skills he developed while doing undergraduate research work at St. Norbert College with propelling him toward the leading edge of the commercial chemical industry.

Klein, 27, was selected by Forbes magazine for its annual 30 Under 30 list of outstanding young researchers. Klein attracted Forbes’ interest while still a graduate student at Purdue University, where he is on schedule to earn his doctorate in May.

Klein is part of a team at Purdue that developed a commercial enterprise called Spero Energy. Their primary project focuses on converting renewable, woody biomass into high-value chemicals. Their immediate commercial markets are the flavor and fragrance industries. The company won the 2014 Midwest Clean Energy Challenge Biofuel Prize.

“On the Purdue side, I’m working in the lab to understand the fundamental mechanics of how the process actually works,” Klein explains. “And on the Spero side of things, we’re working out the kinks to scale up this process and operate it on a commercial scale.

“I didn’t expect to have this entrepreneurial aspect to my Ph.D., but I’ve really enjoyed it. To be able to transition something from a gram scale in the lab to a larger, commercial process is exciting, and I’m very fortunate to be a part of it.”

Klein spent the summer of 2008 working on grant-funded research with Kurstan Cunningham (Chemistry), synthesizing different molecules for potential use in solar cells. They later presented their findings at a national American Chemical Society conference.

“Ian is very talented,” Cunningham says. “The nice thing about doing undergraduate research is you gain a fundamental skill set that can be applied to anything.”

Klein also worked in a co-operative capacity at Kimberly-Clark for eight months, taking time away from school during spring of his junior year to work in the company’s research lab in Neenah, Wis. The experience provided him with valuable insight into industrial applications for chemistry.

Feb. 3, 2015