Up until about a month ago, some people might have found Darlene Solomon’s job schizophrenic. But for her, the combination was ideal: as both the R&D and technology manager for Agilent’s life science and chemical analysis group and director of the life science technologies lab, she focused both on near-term product development and on dreaming up research programs that would bear fruit in 10 or 15 years.
Solomon, 44, attributes her latest promotion, to VP and director of Agilent Laboratories with 300 employees, to that two-pronged background. She has been at Agilent longer than it’s been Agilent: she started 19 years ago at Hewlett-Packard as a scientist in the medical department. “At the time, having a background in inorganic chemistry and protein spectroscopy wasn’t very relative,” she laughs. Now, that’s “a major thrust of the future of Agilent.”
A critical part of Solomon’s job is keeping her eye on the horizon for new technology needs. She compares the current states of proteomics and genomics as an example: “We actually do have the tools to understand gene sequence and composition and expression today. … At the same time, we don’t have the tools to sequence and understand and measure proteins the way we can with nucleic acids.” She points to protein arrays and mass spectrometers as technologies that she expects to make a significant impact.
Fortunately for her, a 10-year-old guess is helping in her quest to tame the complexity of proteomics. She started the microfluidics program in the early ’90s to a chorus of naysayers. “A number of people said it couldn’t be done,” she says. Now, “it turns out that proteomics is where we’re going to aim the technology. But I can’t pretend that 10 years ago we said that proteomics was where [this would go].”
Though life sciences have always been her passion, Solomon now oversees all of the research areas for Agilent, including electronics and communications. Neither of those industries is her forte, but she hopes that her “portfolio management and leadership skills that have been successful for us in the life sciences will be valuable” across the board and enable her to claim territory and brainstorm new directions for the company. “What is really exciting is that so many of these areas are interdisciplinary and a lot of the breakthroughs are at the [interfaces],” she adds.