Double Duty Photo Story by Rebekah Schulte

Kathleen Schulte, 52, works both in her lab and at home, juggling COVID-19 detection research with the responsibilities of a family under the stress of lockdown during the pandamic.

Kathleen Schulte, 52, works at Signature Science in Austin, Texas, developing COVID-19 detection capabilities to monitor and combat the coronavirus pandemic. She has been working extra hours, 10-12 hours per day, five days a week, to get the test methods developed and transitioned for use as quickly as possible. She faces struggles every day at work, including time-sensitive deadlines and funding limitations, though funding for COVID-related research is now more readily available.

Despite the pressure to produce results on COVID projects, Schulte hasn’t been able to abandon her previous research. Schulte works from home on an invention that recovers DNA from tape used to create bombs and a project that extracts DNA from used shell casings. She also bears the pressures of motherhood during a stressful time of home confinement for non-essential activities.

Schulte’s life has been very busy and stressful at work, but she feels fortunate to have a job while so many others have become unemployed. She is also able to carve out some free time over the weekends and is able to help her son, Cole Schulte, 17, with his science experiments and her fiancé Michael Friedman, 55, with home projects.

Kathleen Schulte, 52, models the process of pipetting a DNA sample. Schulte is currently working on multiple projects, including COVID-19 test methods to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus, an invention called TAFFI that extracts DNA from the tape used to create bombs, and a project focused on extracting DNA from used shell casings. “The knowledge I have gained from working with COVID-19 virus drives my everyday behavior in the outside world by underscoring my respect for social distancing rules, wearing masks, washing hands, and just appreciating every moment I have with my family members,” Schulte said. “Life is precious, and this virus has made me painfully aware that tiny things can produce mass destruction and tragedy across all people and borders.”
Schulte walks into work at Signature Science in Austin to work on the COVID-19 surveillance and testing methods her company is developing to help track and contain the SARS-CoV-2 virus and to slow its spread. She said she has had to work extra hours due to the seriousness of the COVID-19 outbreak and the urgent need for solutions.
Schulte buys groceries at Walmart for herself and her family. While so many Americans have lost their jobs in this crisis, Schulte says she is lucky to be employed and to be able to grocery shop without financial stress.
Schulte wipes down her steering wheel with a disinfecting Lysol wipe after visiting Signature Science, her job, to do some lab work. Schulte is currently working on multiple projects for her job, including COVID-19 research projects to help monitor and test for the virus. After each trip outside her home, Schulte makes sure to wipe down her car with Lysol wipes and hand sanitizer to stay clean.
Schulte bakes cookies in her free time on the weekend to destress from her very busy work schedule. Schulte is working on novel COVID-19 test methods for her job at Signature Science. Lately, with the coronavirus pandemic lasting multiple weeks, Schulte has been working 10-12 hours per day, five days a week. She usually works on weekends as well.
Schulte looks over COVID-19 studies for work on Saturday afternoon to use that research while developing new COVID-19 detection methods. Schulte was assigned to the COVID-19 test project due to her previous experience working with the swine flu.
Kathleen Schulte helps her son, Cole Schulte, 17, in a forest behind their house with a science experiment he is doing for his AP Research class at Cedar Park High School. During the COVID-19 outbreak, most students had to cancel their own experiments due to not having access to specialized resources. With the help of his mother and her personal stock of pipettes and petri dishes, Cole was able to continue his experiments with how certain oils affect ants and their colonies.
Schulte models the process of pipetting a DNA sample. Kathleen often works with DNA and spends most of her time with DNA samples in the lab, since most of her projects have to do with forensics, like TAFFI, an invention meant to help extract DNA from the tape used to create bombs, and a project that is focused on extracting DNA from used shell casings.
Schulte shows another project she is working on where she is retrieving DNA from shell casings. For this project, Schulte enlists volunteers to load a gun. Then she goes to the shooting range with gloves on, shoots, and brings back the shell casings to test for traces of the volunteers' DNA. This project is among many that she is working on, all the while working on new COVID-19 detection methods.
Schulte spends time with her fiancé Michael Friedman, 55, while he changes the oil on his son's car, joking about how long it's taken his son to get the oil changed. Schulte and Friedman got engaged last year, having previously worked together at Signature Science.
Schulte gets her hair dyed in the morning by hair stylist JJ Nguyen. Schulte, out of concern for the spread of COVID-19, had Nguyen dye her hair in her backyard rather than go into the salon.


Photo Story by Rebekah Schulte