Brett Paulson

Senior Researcher, SC Johnson

hailing from

North Aurora, Illinois


B.S. in Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2008)

What brought you to the Coon lab?

Before moving to Madison I had been working as a researcher in North Carolina at Metabolon, doing small-molecule analysis for metabolism research. What are the signifying markers (if any) in the blood of someone with autism or Alzheimer’s, for example? Those are the kinds of questions I was working on answering for the past few years. Through a series of fortunate events, Coon surprised me by reaching out after learning that I had ended up in Madison, where my wife’s job brought us after she finished medical school at Duke.

“I’m excited to learn a lot of proteomics and further applications of instrument analysis.”

Currently working on:

One of the projects I’m especially excited about is a high resolution mass spectrometry library for GC-MS. The library is an attempt to provide a tool to help labs across the world analyze their GC-MS spectra and identify peaks. When we run a sample on our instrument with our method and try to identify peaks, whether it be sugars or vitamins or amino acids, it’s relatively easy. Going to another lab, running the sample on their instrument with their method and getting the same result can be very challenging. Beyond this work, which is familiar to me from my previous job, I’m excited to learn a lot of proteomics and further applications of instrument analysis. Finding new applications for current instruments and creating better, more sensitive instruments is a large focus of analytical chemistry research labs. The Coon lab is a testament to that. It’s exciting to be on the cutting edge.


After having spent a decade in industry, how would you describe the difference between industry and academia?

One of the biggest transitions for me has been moving from a numbers game focused on profit to an approach focused on customization and interpretation. In research and development for industry, you have guaranteed money pretty much all the time, but the end goal is to reduce costs or find new novel ways of making more money. Many analysts not working R & D will be focused on analyzing as many samples as possible, as quickly as possible, of course with proper quality control. In academia, you have to compete for funding which I think adds another stressor to the whole R & D process, but you get to be more creative with what you’re working on. There are also more opportunities in academia to work on a sample with unknown characteristics. We often don’t know what to expect will interfere with the instrument’s analysis and are trying to design the best protocols to be able to provide a complete interpretation of the findings of the analysis. All of this customization takes time, something which industry rarely allows.

Earn your Ph.D. with us

The Coon Group is always on the lookout for new members.  Professor Coon accepts students from several UW-Madison doctoral programs including Chemistry, the Integrated Program in Biochemistry (IPiB), and Cellular & Molecular Pathology.