Lab Scientists Solve Puzzles to Make a Better World

Test tubes of various shapes filled with different colored liquids

World Laboratory Day is 4/23! See how CDC lab scientists protect the public.

Scientists in the Division of Laboratory Sciences (DLS) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) work to improve Americans’ health in many ways. They develop laboratory methods to diagnose diseases, test for exposure to harmful chemicals, help other labs with the quality of their tests, and respond to public health emergencies. “It’s like solving puzzles,” says Rudolph “Rudy” Johnson, PhD, a chemist and chief of the DLS Emergency Response Branch.

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Rudolph “Rudy” Johnson, PhD

Johnson enjoys the challenge and purpose of life in the lab. He and his colleagues support the nation during emergencies involving chemical terrorism and other toxins. They are among the many U.S. scientists who perform approximately 13 billion laboratory tests in more than 200,000 Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment-certified laboratories every year.

Meet the Faces behind the Safety Glasses

Meet some of the other faces behind the research and discoveries in DLS.

Chariety Sapp

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Chariety Sapp

CDC Emergency Response Branch

I knew in fifth grade that I wanted to be a scientist. I grew up in a small town in Georgia, where our teacher assigned us to write reports about interesting individuals for Black History Month. I happened to hear of George Washington Carver, and was surprised to learn he made hundreds of compounds out of a peanut, from ink to peanut oil! That inspired me to want to do something unique too.

In college I studied organic chemistry, and was able to create a unique compound and publish my findings. From there, I ended up in the lab doing analytic chemistry, and found I liked analyzing compounds. As a chemist in CDC’s Emergency Response Branch, I lead the Incident Response Laboratory. I’ve received, tracked, shipped, and used laboratory automation to improve rapid testing of biological samples. The information we provide helps protect people’s health in the event of chemical exposure in the environment or even chemical warfare.

My mom was a registered nurse who ended up becoming an emergency medical technician and a firefighter. Seeing her respond to emergencies motivated me to choose work in public health to make the world a better place.

Jon Button

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Jon Button, PhD

Radiation Laboratory Chief
CDC Inorganic and Radiation Analytical Toxicology Branch

When I was a kid in Cleveland, Ohio, I knew that I wanted to make cool discoveries in physics and work in a laboratory. I loved Ghostbusters and other silly films that made science seem fun. My mom came to this country from the Philippines to work as a medical technologist in a clinical lab when there was a need for skilled lab workers. I never thought a career in a clinical lab was for me. But she taught me that if your work fills an important need, then not only will you benefit personally, but you will also make the world around you better.

After I finished my PhD in Experimental Nuclear Physics, I came to CDC because there is a critical lack of radiochemists and radiation scientists to fill important roles in labs across the country. At CDC we have state-of-the-art instruments to develop unique laboratory solutions to difficult threats to public health—such as radiation emergencies.

We are a team of experimenters who are not afraid to try new things. It’s a new challenge every day.

Jeff Jarrett

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Jeff Jarrett

Lead Research Chemist
Element Analysis Laboratory Chief
CDC Inorganic and Radiation Analytical Toxicology Branch

I knew in middle school that I wanted to be a chemist, following in the footsteps of my father who worked in a laboratory. I was raised in a family in Georgia that placed a heavy emphasis on honoring God in all aspects of life, including caring for people and choosing work where we could be of service.

Early in my career, I was a high school physics and physical science teacher. Then a friend told me about a job opportunity at CDC, where I could apply my knowledge in the laboratory. CDC connects me with top-notch people and resources to take part in the overarching goal of enhancing public health. In my role, I appreciate the opportunity to help public health decisions be data-driven as we work toward that goal.

For instance, our laboratory does biomonitoring. This means we test samples from people, usually blood or urine, to look for a chemical or some evidence of exposure from it in the environment. Biomonitoring may help show what chemicals are getting into people’s bodies, and in what amounts. It may also be used to see if public health actions are working to lower people’s exposure to a chemical.