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Looking for traces in the refinery lab

In the laboratory and the units of the Schwechat Refinery, chemist Martina Jüttner searches for various trace elements as part of her quality controls – and has been doing so for over 40 years. Now she explains all the things that have changed in these decades and some that haven’t.

It’s summer in the late seventies and Martina Jüttner is starting her internship at the Schwechat Refinery: the water laboratory is where she gets her first taste for the work. In fall 1979, she then joins the company for good and has stayed true to OMV and the lab for more than 40 years.

Step by step, her responsibilities have grown to encompass the refinery’s entire production and all of its products, including gasoline, diesel and kerosene: Martina Jüttner takes samples of the products from the units before analyzing them and testing the substances. “I look for traces of substances that are undesirable in the final product, like sulfur compounds for example”, she explains. She is part of the entire production process until the final product leaves the refinery. “For example, for an especially crucial, high-value product – our jet fuel. I have been monitoring this for years and always check that all the specifications are met and that the quality is consistent, down to the tiniest detail”, says Martina Jüttner, who has been in charge of quality control in the laboratory for the entire refinery for going on 20 years.

What was it like back then, as a woman in a science-based profession, on top of being in a male-dominated industry? “Completely normal”, shrugs Martina Jüttner. “What’s important for me is what you can do and how you behave as a person. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. And that’s always been my experience in the refinery as well”. 

What’s important for me is what you can do and how you behave as a person. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. And that’s always been my experience in the refinery as well.
Martina Jüttner, Quality Advisor, OMV Schwechat Refinery

Between the test tube and the rectification column 

Of course, there were also women working at OMV at the end of the seventies, although on the technical side they were exclusively found in the lab, Martina Jüttner recalls. There was also one man in the lab as well: namely her future husband.

“That said, I also had close contact to production and was out and about in the units a lot. At the time, it was mainly men who worked there. To some extent I was actually the first”. The few colleagues who were skeptical were quickly won over when they saw she had the requisite technical expertise. And that meant the gender discussion was over before it had even begun. Today? “It’s completely normal for a woman to be out in the units as an operator. Nobody bats an eyelid anymore at a woman in a boiler suit. That counts as significant progress”, she says.

Huge quantities, tiny traces

And what was it that made her choose a scientific vocation 40 years ago? “I got my fundamental interest in science from my parents for sure. In general, I think that children – whether boys or girls – only develop an interest in things if somebody in their surroundings shows them and ignites that spark of fascination”. What’s more, the large, multidimensional environment of the refinery really appealed to her. “For me as a chemist, it’s truly impressive when we search for tiny traces of undesirable elements in really huge production quantities”.

What’s even better is that, for several years now, she has been passing on her decades’-long experience to the next generation in both the lab and the units – ensuring that even the tiniest trace is not lost.

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