On a summer day in Ann Arbor, Michigan, two young teenage boys stood up to their knees in pond water, intently studying its depths. Excitement flickered in one of the boys’ eyes as he spotted movement, and he quickly lowered a jar to scoop up several tadpoles with legs. He surveyed his prize, thinking of the basement-based experiments and creations they would fund when he sold them to a local scientific company. Where some would see only tiny, wriggling creatures, he saw opportunity.
This entrepreneurial vision for scientific and commercial opportunity would become a defining characteristic for Dr. Jan Troup ’74. It led him to Texas A&M University, where he studied for his doctorate under the foremost inorganic chemist of his time. It helped him launch his first business that pioneered a new field, and it sustained him throughout a career of innovation.
Now, this lens of opportunity is inspiring Troup’s planned gift to support the College of Science’s future and extend his innovative legacy into tomorrow.
Learning From the Best
Troup’s early scientific pursuits led him to earn a bachelor’s in chemistry from Eastern Michigan University and seek out some of the greatest chemistry minds for his graduate work. At Ohio University, he earned his master’s in inorganic chemistry under Dr. Abraham Clearfield, who later taught at Texas A&M for more than 40 years. When Troup heard that Dr. F. Albert Cotton, one of the world’s leading inorganic chemists, was taking up a position at Texas A&M, he seized the opportunity and traveled to Aggieland for his doctorate.
Cotton, who would become one of the most decorated faculty members at Texas A&M during his decades-long career at the university, had just moved to Texas from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and accepted Troup as his first graduate student in Aggieland. But having such a distinguished professor brought its own pressures. “It was intimidating,” Troup recalled. “He was an amazing person and had already written a bunch of books, including the bible in inorganic chemistry.”
Nevertheless, Troup rose to the occasion, publishing more than 20 papers with Cotton using single crystal X-ray diffraction, a method that allows scientists to observe the molecular structure of a substance. He also received the university’s new distinguished graduate student award after Cotton nominated him. “Jan proved to be an excellent student,” Cotton wrote in his autobiography titled My Life in the Golden Age of Chemistry: More Fun Than Fun, “He was also one of my all-time best, well up to the standard I was used to at MIT.”
Pioneering an Industry
While Troup was working with X-ray diffraction, the method gained promise as a new drug development tool. Previously, the process was only available to university researchers, but as it became more efficient, Troup recognized the method’s commercial potential. “It’s like having a microscope at the atomic level,” he explained. “You get the structure of an enzyme, and then you input the drug you’re developing to see how it works on the actual biological molecule. So, you’re using the structure to continually improve the drug.”
In 1973, while studying for his Ph.D., Troup partnered with two postdoctoral students to launch Molecular Structure Corp., the world’s first company to offer commercial X-ray diffraction services. There was just one problem: “We needed an expensive computer and X-ray equipment, and we were poor graduate students,” Troup recalled.
Cotton offered them a solution. He would share his X-ray equipment if they bought the computer and let chemistry students use it. “We couldn’t have started the company if he hadn’t agreed to do that,” Troup said.
Thanks to the support, the company soon grew. Troup became the sole proprietor and moved the business to The Woodlands, where it expanded to international offices in Germany and Britain and gained a 60% world market share in X-ray analytical equipment. His clients included large pharmaceutical and chemical companies such as Pfizer, Union Carbide and Monsanto, and the company’s success launched a new industry in X-ray crystallographic services and advanced equipment.
“Soon, every large university and company had their own crystallography department,” Troup said. “We were the seed company showing it could be done. Many of the drugs on the market today were designed with equipment I sold to companies, and I’m very proud of that heritage.”
In 1996, Troup sold Molecular Structure Corp. to a Japanese partner firm. He then formed a company that sold an underwater breathing rescue system he invented, but he always kept an eye out for new opportunities.
He found one at Texas A&M in 2001. Dr. Ronald Macfarlane in the chemistry department had invented a more precise cholesterol test that caught his attention, and Troup developed it into a patented product. He sold the technology to SpectraCell Laboratories a few years later, where it soon served more than 600 people daily. Troup continued to hone the tests as SpectraCell’s director of lipid science and associate lab director while developing additional side projects, expanding his number of patents to seven. In 2018, he retired from a 45-year career of bringing innovations to the market.
“I’m most proud of the technology that has helped people,” Troup said. “Many advances have aided companies in the development of new drugs or saved lives through advanced testing. I felt that was a positive outcome from my efforts.”
Even in retirement, Troup hasn’t stopped innovating. He continues to work on several research projects, including additional lipoprotein technologies and a detector for advanced cancer markers. The latter was inspired by personal tragedy when Troup’s wife, Ellen, passed away last year from cancer. “It was unexpected,” Troup said. “She had a marker that looked suspicious, but we didn’t realize until too late that it may have been a marker for her cancer.”
Through it all, Troup never forgot the start he received from Cotton’s support and his time at Texas A&M. “The projects I’ve pursued in my career have been totally different than my training, but my education at Texas A&M gave me the tools to develop in these other areas,” he explained. Recognizing this, he and Ellen created a distinguished graduate student award for chemistry students in 2019, inspired by the award he received during his time at Texas A&M. “I was grateful to receive that award, and I wanted other people to have the same feeling,” he explained.
Now, Troup is expanding his innovative legacy through a gift in his estate that will create future chairs in inorganic chemistry and analytical and physical chemistry. His planned gift will also foster the next generation of innovators through an endowed fund providing commercialization support for chemistry graduate students.
“The fund was inspired by the way Cotton helped jumpstart my career,” Troup explained. “It’s an important component because scientists often develop ideas but lack the funds to commercialize them and attract an outside buyer. Texas A&M is on the right innovative path, and I hope my gift will inspire students who want to be successful in this area. That would be a fantastic legacy.”
As he continues to pursue scientific and commercial potential, Troup’s generosity will be a catalyst for generations of new ideas from future Aggies who, like him, pursue innovation no matter what form it takes. “Your degree may be in organometallic chemistry,” he said, “but there’s nothing wrong with developing ideas in physical chemistry, analytical chemistry, or medical areas and making history.”
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Where Passion Finds Purpose: The Texas A&M Foundation builds a brighter future for Texas A&M University, one relationship at a time, by uniting generosity and vision to raise and manage major endowed gifts. Learn more at https://www.txamfoundation.com/.
Written by Lydia Hill ’21