Daily Breeze, June 9, 2003, Business Monday

Rita Boggs is the founder and president of American Research and Testing Inc. "We call ourselves consultants with a laboratory," she says.
Good chemistry: Former nun expands horizons with research business

By Muhammed El-Hasan

Rita Boggs leads a visitor through her chemistry laboratory, patiently answering questions about her company. She walks and speaks softly, citing numerous analyses and experiments her business has performed.

The 65-year-old founder and president of American Research and Testing Inc., in an unincorporated area near Gardena, may seem an unlikely entrepreneur -- given that she used to be a nun.

But the longtime chemistry teacher has proved that she can run a business. In October, American Research will turn 21 years old.

The company tests materials to determine chemical content and vulnerability, formulates new materials to fit clients’ needs, and sometimes provides expert advice and testimony in legal conflicts involving products. Most of her business comes from manufacturers.

"When there’s a problem in the production, that’s when they need our help," Boggs said. "We call ourselves consultants with a laboratory."

Boggs received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1959 from Notre Dame College at Staten Island. Then she became a nun.

As a nun, she taught chemistry at Notre Dame High School in Schenectady, N.Y. She also taught chemistry at Notre Dame College for two years after earning a master’s degree in the subject.

In 1973, Boggs received her doctoral degree from the University of Pennsylvania. She then left the convent, wanting a "change in lifestyle."

She eventually took a job as assistant vice president at U.S. Testing Co.’s California division in the city of Industry. After a few years there, she started a laboratory analysis company.

In October 1982, American Research opened for business.

With three employees, two of them chemists, the company boasts a wide array of past and current clients, including a car company, research foundations and government agencies.

A year ago, American Research won a contract from the state’s Prison Industries Authority. Inmates at the Antelope Valley State Prison in Lancaster make detergent products that are sold to other state prisons and agencies. American Research has been helping the prison reformulate its products to be more environmentally friendly, said Barbara Belmont, the South Bay company’s laboratory director.

"We’re also helping them develop new (detergents) to expand their line," said Belmont, who joined Boggs a year after the company started.

Boggs, who lives in Carson, hopes the prison contract will lead to more business.

"If we develop a whole line of environmentally friendly cleaning products . . . we’ll also sell those formulations to private companies, as long as we don’t directly compete with (the prison authority)."

Laboratory Director Barbara Belmont at American Research and Testing Inc. sets up an infrared spectrophotometer, which analyzes the chemical makeup of molecules.
American Research has analyzed the corrosiveness of Toyota truck chrome bumpers and the flammability of paint. Boggs held up a woman’s shoe whose heel the company analyzed years ago.

"There was a woman who bought shoes at Nordstrom and fell at another store," Boggs explained. "She said it was because of a defective heel. It was a plastic heel."

Boggs’ chemists analyzed the heel and found that it offered as much resistance to slipping as leather heels.

"So nothing was defective about the heel," Boggs concluded.

Boggs also has a Weather-ometer, a large box that simulates the sun and rain to test products under various weather conditions.

Going from nun to employee to entrepreneur wasn’t easy, Boggs said.

"In the beginning, I was well educated as a chemist. But I wasn’t well educated in marketing," she said. "So I had to learn and I’m still learning."

Boggs continues to teach chemistry, now at Cal State, Dominguez Hills. She also periodically talks to high school students about careers in chemistry, and sits on the Carson Planning Commission.

She plans to eventually slow down and hand over the reigns of her company.

"There will be a point where I step back and Barbara will run it," Boggs said. "Not immediately, but it will certainly happen at some point."

The Details

Name: American Research and Testing Inc.

Location: an unincorporated area 14934 S. Figueroa St., near Gardena

Founded: 1982

Owner: Rita Boggs

Services: Tests materials to determine chemical content and vulnerability, formulates new materials to fit clients’ needs, and provides expert advice and testimony in legal conflicts involving products.

Annual revenues: Year-to-date sales have increased 10 percent compared with the same period last year

Employees: 3

Information: www.AmericanResearch.com