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Building with Biology

Each month, the University of Montana’s SpectrUM Discovery Area opens up its doors free of charge to the public for some hands-on learning and an opportunity to meet role models in various fields. This month’s theme was “Building with Biology” and provided opportunities for kids (both young and old) to engage in some hands-on science work and to meet some great STEM role models.

That group of role models included Rivertop’s own Kelly Barton, Senior Scientist here in Missoula. Kelly showed different ‘modules’ or units designed to elicit discussions on synthetic biology and its societal implications. She took visitors through Synthetic Biology kit exercises—particularly the ‘Tech Tokens’ Synthetic Biology kit.

Read more about the program in the Missoulian or check out this Tech Tokens video to learn more about Building with Biology.

Rivertop’s Annual Safety BBQ

Rivertop takes pride in its commitment to safety—a commitment which we celebrate every year at a company-wide event here at Rivertop. What do you get when you take a safety event, add some good BBQ and delicious local lager? A Safety-que.

This year’s Safety-que was the third annual event, honoring the hard work of the safety committee and thanking all Rivertop employees for their commitment to safety. It took place at the beautiful home of Cindy and Ross Campbell, surrounded by horse pastures, scenic views of the Montana mountains and (most importantly) a goldfish pond.

Kelly Barton, Rivertop’s Safety Coach (and Senior Scientist) and the safety committee planned the fun night. Kids (young and old) got to play games—including Campbell’s favorite called carpet ball—enjoy delectable barbecued meats (smoked chicken, ribs and pulled pork) and partake of Bayern Brewery’s well-loved Dump Truck Summer Bock lager.

It was truly an excellent celebration; one that marked yet another year of zero safety issues at Rivertop and one that re-emphasizes the company’s dedication to safety going forward.

An Adventure like No Other!

Ross Campbell, Rivertop’s Supply Chain and Quality Leader, and his daughter, Kristina, recently returned from an 18-day African Safari. The impetus for the expedition was Kristina’s college course on South African Culture and Historical Study, as well as a biological study of South African Animals. In order to participate, Ross, who intended to “chaperone” the trip, had to become a Buena Vista University student for 3 weeks to satisfy insurance requirements. 30 years after his first college graduation, Ross is a freshly minted alumnus once again!

Overflowing with fascinating cultures, a jaw-dropping array of species and tangerine-colored sunsets melting, Ross took over 11,000 photos on this 18-day adventure. Here are a few favorites:

980x-3“The elephants were some of the crankiest animals, so you learned to keep an eye out for them and be aware if they were heading to cross a road – you never wanted to be in their way. If you remained aware, you would be fine. This one, nicknamed one of the ‘Bash Brothers,’ seemed to pose for the camera.”


Which animal was Ross’ favoriteLion spotting. Hands down. Luckily, all of his encounters were at a safe distance. The other two vans managed to come across lions right alongside their vehicle during the day. Playing with the lion cubs on the final day definitely made up for that though!


“The leopard, only 6 feet away, was amazing to photograph – but you were very conscious of the fact that the window was down and he was aware of everything. Fortunately, he gave us 15 seconds of photo time and then very non-aggressively just stood up, turned around and wandered 20 feet further into the jungle and sat back down”.

“You quickly learned to be as quiet as possible when encountering the animals. Rhinos have poor eyesight, but great hearing. If you sit quietly, you can both enjoy the moment. If they hear you, they get nervous and anxious – a bad combination for a large animal with a three-foot horn and a few thousand pounds behind it.”


When asked about his favorite experience of the trip, Ross (unsurprisingly) had trouble choosing, but eventually settled on their visit to a local school:

“The Nsukazi school was amazing and humbling. School is mandatory in South Africa and is where most children get their only meal of the day. The schools look like fortresses – walled, fenced with razor-wire and guard shacks to protect their little equipment and supplies – and yet the teachers are so dedicated and the students so happy. It was such an honor and privilege to interact with them and watch them pose and smile and sing and dance for us”.

Will Ross ever be going to Africa again?

“They do warn you that no matter how much protective clothing, nets or insecticide you use, very few people ever escape an African trip without at least one bite. The most virulent and common bite comes from an amazingly successful African bug – the come-back bug. I think I feel an itch…”

Founder Don Kiely Performs the Blues and Sings Rivertop’s Praises!

Yesterday our founder Don Kiely performed some blues and swing tunes for fellow Rivertopians at the Sound, Soup and Sanctuary experience. The event, which took place at the University Congregational Church (UCC), adjacent to the University of Montana campus, was part of a music performance series that is free and open to the public. Don played harmonica on classics such as It Had To Be You, Misty, andFly Me to the Moon and added vocals on Mojo Man and Old Time Boogie. He certainly had everyone’s feet tapping.

Just a few hours later, Don spoke at InnovativeUM. The event, put on by the University, connects the community to leading University of Montana faculty members, alumni and national collaborators through dynamic, big-idea talks, living room conversations, a tech expo, art and food. In short, it is a celebration of innovation and a catalyst for collaboration.

At the event, Don was asked to tell his story and that of Rivertop (the technology we use was actually developed by Don in a lab at the University of Montana). He jokingly explained: “Somehow they got my name, ignored the age requirement for entrepreneurs, and asked me to participate.” And the rest is Rivertop history.

It was truly an eventful and noteworthy day. We here at Rivertop really value the connection that we still maintain with the University and are excited to have great events and great spokespeople (wielding harmonicas) to reaffirm it.

Rivertopians Take On Utah

Once the ski season comes to an end in Missoula, Rivertopians typically take the week of spring break to get out and enjoy the new spring weather with their kids. This year, four adventure-seeking Rivertopians—Jason Kiely, Patrick Memoli, Michael Rands and Jon Speare— packed up their families, loaded up their cars and took off for Utah. Their destination? Arches and Canyonlands National Parks to celebrate the real beginning of spring.

Both parks are great for families and experienced climbers alike. Arches, about a 10-hour drive from Missoula, is especially appealing with its unique rock formations resulting in distinctive hiking trails. We have evidence: above is a picture of Michael Rands’ son Tanner at Delicate Arch, one of Utah’s most iconic arches. Below are Jon Speare’s kids in the strange and colorful Goblin Valley State Park.

With so many National Parks in and around Montana there are countless options for taking advantage of weekends and the beautiful spring weather. It really is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise.

STEM Strikes Back

We were excited to stumble across a recent article in the Montanan highlighting the Montana STEMfest. The event took place in October of last year and was created to connect kids between the ages of 8 and 16 with experts and academics in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Our own Kelly Barton participated in the two-day virtual conference series, providing insights into her experience as a research scientist here at Rivertop.

Montana in the Classroom teamed up with the Missoula College Energy Technology Program to put on this event in order to engage students more on STEM topics. It looks like they were successful! As the Montanan reports, more than 50 classrooms participated in nine live sessions. Even more impressive is that another 2,000 students watched recordings ex post facto.

We reported on the conference briefly in a previous blogpost, but are grateful to the Montanan for putting the spotlight back on a great event. And we are of course excited that our investment in STEM continues to be recognized!

photo credit: The Montanan

Steve’s Rivertop Milestone

Steve Rowley, Technology Manager with the Process Design team at Rivertop, has ascended to the Rivertop 5-year club. Steve came on board in 2010 as a Research Scientist in the Process Development Group, working to scale up Rivertop’s proprietary oxidation technology. Now a Technology Manager, Steve works to develop new oxidation processes and test their scalability. As Steve describes his work: “My team works with bench scale chemical processes and scales them up to multiple liter batch sizes. In doing so we learn if the process can be scaled to a manufacturing plant in a feasible and cost effective way.

Steve looks back fondly on his time at Rivertop, particularly on one evening when he and a couple of colleagues had an understated, but very deserved celebration. As he remembers, “When we first learned that we had obtained grant money to expand our facility, it was towards the end of the day and everyone was getting ready to leave. We opened a tiny bottle of champagne that someone had been keeping for a special occasion and celebrated.”

When asked what piece of advice he would give himself when he first arrived at Rivertop five years ago, Steve reflected and shared some very wise words for all of us: “Pay attention to your ‘failures;’ there are often little clues hidden in them.”

Steve certainly has had several reasons for champagne toasts when not at Rivertop over the past 5 years: he and his wife have had two little girls! If we’re lucky, they will grow up to be scientists just like their dad and join the Rivertop crew.

A Montana Meander

Earlier this year, Kelly Barton, a research scientist with us here at Rivertop, went on a walk along the beautiful Bitterroot River. The river runs through Hamilton, a city just an hour south of Missoula–a straight shot down 93.

On this particular day, Kelly and her partner Tim Wilson meandered along the river in Kiwanis Park (a park at the edge of the city). While trying to decide which path to take into the wooded area along the river, they spied a bald eagle and watched him swoop into the woods in the direction of the river. In their subsequent wanderings, they discovered him again, perched on a tree on the other side of Bitterroot river. They snapped a couple of pictures and left him to enjoy the day.

Kelly highly recommends the area as an easy place to get away for a walk with friends, pets or by yourself. The pictures speak for themselves. Montana is a beautiful place in the meditative winter months!

Unwind from the Holidays!

The Rivertop pHun Committee has added another notch to their belt with their latest celebratory success. Rivertopians and their better halves were invited to celebrate the end of a productive year and the dawning of a new year filled with even greater goals and accomplishments. In lieu of the traditional formal holiday party in December, the Rivertop team spent last Saturday evening at the beautiful Loft of Missoula, recovering from holiday excitement.

The theme of the evening was ‘Unwind from the Holidays,’ a time to relax and recover after December craziness. Party-goers enjoyed appetizers from our friends at Market on Front, scrumptious desserts, refreshing libations and plenty of laughs. Not everyone was fully relaxed, however, with diehard Green Bay fans (notably Mike Knauf and his wife Pam) watching the Packers vs. Cardinals game on the big screen. Although the Packers weren’t quite able to pull it off this year, the evening was certainly a W for Rivertop.

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