Tyrone Wells Jr. carried the Volunteer spirit with him to his role as laboratory manager at the Parker Filtration Innovation Center in Columbia, Tennessee, after completing postdoctoral work at UT Knoxville. He forged a path that allows him to share his knowledge across the state.
Parker Hannifin, a global engineering company, specializes in clean sustainable technologies. Wells works with processes to protect that technology.
“That is in essence what a filter does,” he said. “We develop innovative safeguards for technology platforms and assess them analytically as needed in my labs.”
Wells also mentors in safeguards and sustainability via his leadership in an outreach program launched by Parker. Their team introduces grade-school students in the area to STEM ideas and projects. Programs include lessons using household items to show how filtration works. One lesson includes a separation challenge, where students work to separate an egg using filtration methods.
“This initiative was to get kids from around the Middle Tennessee area to think about ways to innovate on a novel solution: separating an egg into its three basic components,” said Wells. “We had submissions from a number of talented kids aged from 10 to 15.”
The 10-year-old winner designed a system to separate the eggshell, egg white, and yolk using a series of three cups with different-sized holes in the bottoms. She and her mother received a tour of Parker’s labs and an in-person engineering chat with Wells and team.
“The one-on-one care, feedback, and interest in this little girl’s project will change the trajectory of her life towards uplifting others,” said Wells, who recalls a similar influence in his childhood. Born in California, he grew up with a nationwide educational experience thanks to his family’s military background. He finished high school in Georgia and set forth on his engineering career.
“Face-to-face exposure with scientists and engineers in my early life made the idea of becoming one that much more real to me as a young Black kid,” he said. “Today I aspire to be the catalyst—a pebble, capable of creating waves among a new generation of empowered visionaries poised to transform the world for good.”
One of Wells’s most significant mentors along the way was Art Ragauskas, UT–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair for Biorefining and acting head of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
“Throughout Dr. Wells’s career, he has excelled at multidisciplinary research, leveraging his expertise and the expertise of research colleagues to develop unique solutions,” said Ragauskas. “He is very skilled at team research, and it brings me great pleasure to see how he is now recruiting a new generation of students interested in science and engineering.”
“I was with Art as a grad student for five years at Georgia Tech, where I learned a lot about his approach to guidance and support,” said Wells. He then came to UT to work with Ragauskas as a postdoc for a year. “I worked in managing the current lab as well as supporting research at ORNL,” he said.
Wells worked in a government role for two years after his postdoc, developing standards and overseeing testing for the destruction of last US chemical weapon stockpile.
“Overall I had experience in academia, government, and for-profit,” said Wells. “Art’s guidance in multidisciplinary research has been essential. All these experiences have been instrumental in my current career.”
Rocky Top culture reinforced his inclination to give back through his work.
“UT Knoxville certainly has a very engaging environment,” said Wells. “Knoxville is a great city to find communities and fun activities to partake with new and old friends. I remember the international student assembly at UT was a great resource for outgoing folks who would enlighten me on what the city had to offer. Overall, my time at UT helped me continue to develop social skills and embrace being more engaging with others.”
Wells continues to engage in his role at Parker, shining a light and helping change lives in the Volunteer way.