Christine Chen

From Candy to Chemistry: Working in a Factory Turned Laboratory

Christine Chen

Before joining PSG as an editorial intern, I worked as a chemist in Cambridge, MA, in a six-story structure that once belonged to the New England Confectionary Company—famous for their colorful wafers and conversation hearts, and more commonly known as Necco.

Back in 1928, the Necco candy factory embodied the “promising future of American architecture,” but in 2001, with manufacturing industries moving out of the Cambridge area, Necco sold the building to a pharmaceutical company. The building was gutted out to include an open space at the center. Glass-enclosed elevators moved between floors of biomedical research laboratories.

The cafeteria where I’d meet my colleagues for lunch used to be the power plant. A “winter garden” with tropical plants had replaced the loading dock. The water tower, once painted in colorful stripes like the Necco wafers, was replaced with a double-stranded helix of DNA.

How amazing that a candy-making factory became a center for a cutting-edge research facility, a place where I had been going day in and day out mixing chemicals to synthesize new molecules. The same place where, years ago, workers had mixed batches of sugars and flavors to churn out Necco treats. There were days my lab mate swore he caught a whiff of peppermint candies!

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