Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: Intertox scientist Anne Galyean can also be a mountain biking weekend warrior

(Photo courtesy of Anne Galyean)

As Anne Galyean set a course to move up through the ranks of a science career, another path sent her down — as in downhill — as she took on a career as a professional mountain bike racer.

Today Galyean is a staff scientist at Intertox Inc., a Seattle-based scientific consulting firm that assesses the risks posed to public health by chemical and biological agents. And while she no longer races, our latest Geek of the Week is still a pro ambassador heavily involved in the mountain bike scene.

After a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Richmond, Galyean pursued a doctorate degree in aquatic analytical chemistry at the University of North Carolina. Her research involved the optimization of an online, multi-step analytical approach for the separation and subsequent characterization of silver nanoparticles in natural water.

“Before joining the consulting world, I spent more than 11 years in the academic research laboratory,” Galyean said.

Galyean also worked on a postdoctoral project in chemical and biological engineering at the Colorado School of Mines related to disease-causing bacterial biofilms.

“Bacterial biofilms can form persistent infections on wounds, on implanted medical devices, and are associated with many chronic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis,” Galyean said. “These infections are medically difficult to treat because biofilms are more resistant to antibiotic attack.”

In her other life, Galyean started racing downhill mountain bikes at age 21 and spent six years racing at a national level. She joined the Yeti/Fox National Factory Enduro Team in 2017, where she raced full-time while completing her postdoctoral work.

“I had many successful years racing bikes, but last year, I took a step back from racing to focus on my science career,” Galyean said, adding that she’s a pro ambassador and weekend warrior for several brands, focusing on coaching, media projects, and community engagement. And she’s a certified mountain bike instructor.

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Anne Galyean:

What do you do, and why do you do it? Of all the things I do on a regular basis, most of them can be boiled down to two major endeavors: being a scientist and a mountain bike athlete. Being a scientist is an obvious path for me. I like solving puzzles and exploring. I also feel a sense of responsibility to use my privilege, education, and able brain to help make the world a better place. At Intertox, we use science to solve problems. High level, we conduct toxicological assessments to determine potential risk to human and environmental health.

(Matthew DeLorme Photo)

As for mountain biking, aside from the obvious thrill of riding bikes, I think there is a ton that a sport like mountain biking can offer people. I’ve been focusing my attention on creating content around the idea that being a weekend warrior isn’t a sacrifice. It’s the maximization and realization of a set of well-rounded, ambitious goals in all aspects of life. I try to talk a lot about work-life integration, about enjoying your hobbies regardless of how much time you have to give. I also think mountain bike racing has a lot to offer, to women especially, because it teaches us skills like being decisive, embracing fear, and not playing small.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? Nearly 500 years ago, a Swiss physician and chemist named Paracelsus stated, “What is there that is not poison? All things are poison and nothing is without poison. Solely the dose determines that a thing is not a poison.” This translates to the modern toxicology concept of, “the dose makes the poison.” While toxicology is often considered the science of poisons or poisoning, developing a definition for the word, “poison,” is problematic. Everything is, in fact, a poison! Any substance, including water, your favorite ice cream, essential oils, or drugs, has the capacity to harm an organism and therefore can be categorized as a poison. What matters is how much of a substance a person is exposed to, how they are exposed, and for how long. For example, the American Chemical Society once calculated that for that the average 180-pound person, they would have to consume about 5.4 pounds of sugar to have about a 50 percent chance of a lethal overdose. Sugar is relatively non-toxic, so a large amount would be required to cause potential health effects.

Where do you find your inspiration? In challenges. Sounds cliché, but challenges are what keep me pushing forward. I might train for a challenging mountain bike event, learn a difficult scientific skill, go out of my comfort zone at a networking event, or volunteer for opportunities at work just to challenge myself with something new. I often joke that I got my PhD just because it was the most difficult academic challenge I could think of doing at the time. There’s some truth in there, I think. This past July, after training for eight months, I raced the Trans BC Enduro, a 6-day backcountry mountain bike event often dubbed the hardest Enduro race in the world. I’m not sure what the next big challenge is yet, but I’ve got a long list of ideas. Saving the planet is on there somewhere.

One of my favorite quotes is, “One should not pursue goals that are easily achieved. One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one’s greatest efforts.” — Albert Einstein.

(Matthew DeLorme Photo)

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? My bike. It is a profound freedom to move so quickly and efficiently under your own power. Plus, when you’re making all the right moves and taking all the right lines, riding a mountain bike through the mountains can feel like flying. I ride some type of bike almost every day, whether it’s commuting to work or navigating a steep, technical trail.

My do-everything mountain bike is a Yeti SB150 (150mm rear travel), built for my more aggressive riding style. I want a bike that I can smash through steep, technical rock gardens and still be light enough to pedal back up to the top. I’m grateful to work with so many companies whose products I trust!

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? My workplace is simple, green, and active. I don’t like a lot of clutter, so I try and keep a fair bit of open space. I also somewhat resent having to be indoors, ever, so I have several plants to make the space just a bit greener. I have a standing desk but no chair, so I really only sit for meetings. Finally, I keep several mobility and flexibility gadgets around, like a yoga mat, foam roller, and lacrosse ball, and can often be found on the office floor rolling out tight muscles from my morning workouts and daily bike commutes.

(Photo courtesy of Anne Galyean)

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) Physics. Specifically, the pendulum effect. Perfect balance isn’t real or achievable. It will drive you crazy trying to keep it all going in perfect alignment! The work-life concept can be described as “integrated.” Work-life integration is a pendulum that sometimes swings far to one side or the other. When your values and your work-life life are integrated, you learn to accept when the pendulum is oscillating more toward work or the rest of your life. For example, there are times when you have a big work goal — you’re gunning for a promotion or taking on an important project. At that point, your pendulum might swing toward work. It’s exhausting and probably unsustainable. But is it the right form of work-life integration at a given time to achieve your goal? Absolutely. When your goal is met, the pendulum can swing back the other way. The pendulum effect tells us that, when displaced sideways from its equilibrium position, a pendulum experiences a restoring gravitational force that will accelerate it back toward the center.

Mac, Windows or Linux? I’m a Windows gal. Not because it’s the best option, but because it’s convenient and easy to interface with school/work and analytical instrumentation in the lab.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? I will fully admit to being more of a Star Wars fan myself, but I’d go with Janeway. She’s a scientist! Plus, she had a remarkably strong crew, leading to many seriously creative and brilliant solutions.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Transporter. A time machine presents far too many catastrophic possibilities and invisibility just lets you get away with creeping around. A transporter means that you can be highly efficient and productive. I’m all for getting more done in my day!

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … Bring more STEM educational programs to underserved communities. Or, develop water recycling facilities for a major city. Or create a multi-disciplinary scientific consulting firm. Or establish a way to connect STEM professionals with educators. Or patent a new technology to clean drinking water in places like Flint, Mich. Or…

I once waited in line for … Airport security. I’m now on that TSA PreCheck train. It’s funny to think about the things you get excited about once you hit age 30. Adulting is weird.

Your role models: In general, I’m motivated by being around driven people, regardless of their pursuits. Any time people get excited about what they’re doing, it makes me want to reach higher goals! Anybody out there solving problems and using their platform for the greater good can be considered a role model for me. That means diversity and inclusion advocates, environmental scientists fighting climate change, women in leadership roles, celebrities using their popularity to bring attention to critical social issues, and every day people using their expertise to help make the world a better place. A great example of this is my friend, Anita Naidu, who is by far one of my biggest inspirations. She is a professional mountain biker and an award-winning humanitarian who holds master’s degrees in environmental and chemical engineering. She is someone who truly uses her skills and talents for the greater good, from coaching women’s mountain-bike clinics that combine outdoor adventure with social impact discussions to developing an app, called Services Advisor, which has provided essential resources for more than 3 million refugees in Jordan and Turkey.

Greatest game in history: “Warcraft: Orcs & Humans.” While it wasn’t the first RTS, Warcraft was one of the first PC games that I was exposed to growing up. I loved the fact that the characters had personality and that units had to be carefully managed instead of serving as expendable bettering rams. It set the stage for compelling storylines, limited resource missions, and skirmishes. I fell in love with RTS games and have continued playing “Warcraft” and “StarCraft” to this day! On the adventure side, “The Longest Journey” is truly one of my all-time favorite games. April Ryan was such a compelling, memorable character and, thankfully, she wasn’t exploited for her looks! The story completely sucked me in and many of the puzzles were satisfyingly challenging. I’m still holding out hope for TLJHome someday to complete the story.

Best gadget ever: Bluetooth headphones. Being able to turn your head and not get caught on doorknobs?! What a time to be alive.

First computer: An original iMac! I had a lime green one.

Current phone: Google Fi Motorola G6. Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.

Favorite app: If the criteria is what app I used most, it would be My Fitness Pal. As an athlete and life-long gym goer, I have come to appreciate all the data that can I can incorporate into my training. Otherwise, the Native Land app is one of my favorites. Wherever I go, it helps me learn indigenous local history by identifying past and current indigenous territories and languages in the area. Nearly every place we occupy was once the homeland for indigenous people who did not leave the land willingly. I think it’s important to acknowledge whose land you’re on.

Favorite cause: This is a tricky one for me because there are a ton of wonderful groups doing really meaningful work! My top two favorites at the moment are the First Nations Development Institute and Association for Women in Science (AWIS).

Most important technology of 2019: 3D printing. I think 3D printing is a having a major moment right now! It is finding applications in a wide range of industries. For example, printing tissues and organs, creating pills with specific dosages of multiple medications, rebuilding coral reefs, or major tech manufacturers relying on 3D printers for prototyping to streamline product development. However, the biggest reason I think 3D printing is so important right now is that the technology is available to almost everyone. For a couple hundred bucks, you can be printing at home. Putting technology so powerful in the hands of the general public means that we’ll see a lot of innovation from unexpected places.

Most important technology of 2021: Green chemistry. The UN reports that more than 8 million tons of plastic flow into the oceans every year. 8 million tons. That’s 15 truck fulls every minute. That’s 2 Empire State buildings every month. Just this year, a research team at Purdue developed a way to convert more than 90 percent of polyolefin waste into many different products, including pure polymers, naphtha, fuels, or monomers. Finding climate-friendly ways to mitigate our insane plastic waste will be one of the next big technological requirements of our time.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: You absolutely do not have to fit in. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with my seemingly multiple personalities — am I an athlete? A metalhead? A geek? A scientist? A tattooed straight-edger? An introvert? A professional consultant? … the list is endless and, probably, so is yours. We’re all multi-faceted. If I may borrow from my science side, it takes the combination of expertise and a multi-disciplinary approach to solve the biggest scientific challenges we face today. Whether that’s finding new sources of energy, sending people to other planets, or saving the environment, successful solutions can only be found with out-of-the-box thinking from a strong team using diverse backgrounds and perspectives. I’ve started to think of my own life like one of these complex puzzles that requires a multi-faced approach. I am far more able to make good decisions, come up with creative solutions, and take on new opportunities because I’m well-rounded. Once I started embracing these disparate sides of myself, I started being able to problem-solve with a variety of perspectives. Accept all sides of yourself as part of a multi-disciplinary team. Don’t feel like you have to limit yourself to one point of view!

Instagram: @annegalyean

LinkedIn: Anne Galyean

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