Sound Science: Suzzy Ho

December 22nd, 2020

We asked ExxonMobil scientists about why they are drawn to the world of science and why they think the scientific process is essential in solving the world’s (energy) challenges.

(Click on the audio buttons throughout to hear their stories in their own words.)

Seeking new horizons with an eye on the past

In her work finding new ways to create synthetic lubricants and diesel fuels, Suzzy Ho constantly questions the status quo with an open mind and willingness to follow facts, no matter where they lead.

This is how Suzzy defines sound science – but keeping an open mind extends beyond her lab and research.

While Suzzy grew up in Taiwan and Singapore following the turbulence of World War II, her mother instilled a sense of independence that was not normally encouraged in girls from her hometown at that time.

That childhood message of self-reliance is evident in her work today in the chemistry lab at ExxonMobil. As a distinguished scientist in the company’s research arm, Suzzy continually questions how – or if – past results can inform new solutions while searching for breakthroughs in synthetic fuels efficiency. Put simply, Suzzy empowers her team of researchers to question everything and to expect the unexpected.

Suzzy’s own life included unexpected turns and unique experiences that shaped a sense of determination she brings to the lab each day. When Suzzy was just two, she suffered third-degree burns that severely damaged both of her hands. After many restorative skin grafts, she was introduced to piano lessons as a therapy to retrain and strengthen her hands.

That work over the piano keys instilled in her a fight over her physical constraints that cemented in her a character of perseverance and confidence, which she relied upon when she moved to the United States at 18 to study chemistry at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and eventually to work at ExxonMobil.

As one of few women with doctoral degrees who joined Mobil in the 1980s, Suzzy devoted tens of thousands of hours to advance the chemistry of energy products. Her work led to patents, commercialized products and best practices in manufacturing. Suzzy was one of the first researchers to conceptualize the formula for SpectraSyn Elite TM, a synthetic base stock that became a key ingredient for wind turbine and other industrial lubricants produced by the company.

But no matter how much meticulous planning Suzzy and her team do to prepare for new experiments, her favorite moments come in uncovering the unexpected – finding surprises in results. Despite relying on fundamentals and double-checking techniques and procedures, science can take an abrupt turn “off the map.”

Some may think that type of disorientation creates confusion, but for Suzzy, the road less traveled often leads to discovery. That is why she keeps an open mind, remains flexible and allows the science to determine the facts.

"Chemistry is always there, always around us."

Indeed, scientists can plan experiments, but they don’t control the outcomes.

The work done every day at ExxonMobil is conducted in an environment where creativity, curiosity and innovation are elevated and where the science guides how to supply more efficient energy with fewer emissions.

As Suzzy works toward new milestones on the horizon, she is always reflecting on past results – while keeping an open mind for the unexpected.