Success Stories in the the Sciences: Dr. Tycho Speaker, Ph.D. ’84
“The languages of science, in particular chemistry and pharmacy, were my languages of origin in my childhood household,” said Dr. Tycho Speaker, Ph.D. ’84. Tycho grew up with a father who taught medicinal chemistry at Temple University School of Pharmacy and a mother who was the chief toxicologist for the City of Philadelphia. Having started Friends Select in kindergarten, he’s considered a “lifer” with one unique detail—he was accepted to Deep Springs College in 11th grade and graduated early.
Tycho completed his undergraduate studies at Temple University before receiving his Ph.D. in physical chemistry and photochemistry from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Throughout his career, he has been conscious that, ultimately, the result of his work helps others—something he identifies as a “fundamental framework of service” and attributes to having been a Friends Select student. “Friends Select provided me with the philosophy that everyone is deserving of respect and everyone deserves the best you can give,” he said. “And that has helped fuel my desire to provide service and compassionate connection to others.”
Currently a pharmaceutical chemist with nine patents, Tycho founded his company, Capsulent, in 2004 after a discovery he made on a family camping trip. “I was in a cloud of mosquitoes, slathering DEET on my daughters’ faces, and I wondered if microencapsulation technology that I had previously worked on with my father could improve our situation,” he said. “Microencapsulation involves putting a skin around a droplet to control the release of the chemical so that it stays on your skin, rather than evaporating into it, and is therefore effective for a longer period of time.”
Through Capsulent, Tycho further developed and commercialized his microencapsulation technology, which is now featured in hair and skincare products. The greatest impact, however, was through his partnership with a global health organization. “My invention was picked up by a company whose mission is to assist people all over the world by providing access to innovations that help them live healthy lives,” he said. Tycho’s invention is now being used in insect repellent in Africa, and protecting people from malaria-infected mosquitoes.
Tycho’s previous work in skin-based vaccinations received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for malaria prevention. For the past decade, Tycho has been further developing this advancement—a dissolvable patch that distributes medication into the skin using microneedles. “This technology is biodegradable, it’s painless for the patient, and there is no hazardous waste or leftover needles that could stick someone,” he said.
In addition to influencing Tycho’s use of science to help others, Friends Select challenged him academically and fostered his innate interests. In upper school, his enthusiasm for math and science was met with advanced courses such as projective geometry and physical chemistry. “I had the opportunity to take unique electives taught by inspiring teachers, such as Ralph Reinwald and Bok Reed,” he said. Tycho also said his passion and creativity in his career were supported by English skills he learned at Friends Select, particularly from Janet Goldstein ’57.
Tycho has visited Friends Select virtually, to work with upper school students on advanced chemistry research projects. When he thinks of the students who might dream of a career in the sciences, he offers advice. “Decide what you are truly passionate about and ask yourself, ‘What effect do I want to have on the world?’,” he said. “Enjoy the winding path that careers often take; your first job is very unlikely to be exactly what you thought you would be doing. But, you can develop and master skills that you can then take to your next position. Treat your career as not a game to win, but a game to enjoy playing.”
Friends Select's science curriculum fosters intellectual curiosity and appreciation of the creative aspects of scientific discovery. To learn more about the science program in grades PK-12 and the school's plans to transform the upper school biology, chemistry, and physics classrooms, please contact Christine Jefferson at 215.561.5900 x3141 or firstname.lastname@example.org.