Justine Laugharn, Principal of Covaris, Inc. Speaks at BHWF

Despite the significant snowfall, Beacon Hill Women’s Forum (BHWF) members filled the Hampshire House library on Tuesday, Feb. 12, eager to hear Justine Laugharn, principal of Covaris, Inc., give her talk, “Yes, you can have it all!” 

The program began with Neighborhood Narratives speaker, Jill and Dan Pelo, owners of The Designers; Leather Clothiers, Inc. on Charles Street at Pinckney.  Since 1984, Jill and Dan have been offering an extensive selection of in-stock and custom handmade leather garments, bags and accessories, including hats and fascinators. BHWF members were pleased to see an example of their work– a beautiful skirt designed and custom made for President Senaida Bautista.  Moreover, the duo specializes in alterations, repairs and cleaning for any leather, suede, shearling and fur item.  With a mission to highlight local designers, the store also carries jewelry and silk scarves handmade by others in the area. 

The keynote speaker, Justine Laugharn leads Covaris, Inc., a biotech company established in 1999, known for their sophisticated instruments most often used for nucleic acid fragmentation, a key preparation step for DNA sequencing. Prior to her husband Jim inventing the Covaris apparatus, scientist relied on the use of enzymes known to have some sequence bias effects, or a more primitive mechanical DNA shearing method entailing a hand-held sonicator probe with samples chilled over an ice bucket. The Covaris uses focused acoustic wave technology, a fundamentally different approach, with automated time and temperature settings.  The wide adoption of the Covaris instrument was a game-changer that reduced labor, significantly increased reproducibility, and allowed for less starting material, which could be especially advantageous when using precious tissue samples harvested from patients. 

For example, with the Covaris instrument, oncologists today are not limited to only wet tissue specimens for performing molecular characterization to understand the underlying genome of cancer biopsies, but can also take advantage of formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissues available in pathology labs. Today, Covaris is by far the dominant technology for DNA fragmentation across the world. It can be seen at individual laboratories and core facilities at research institutes and hospitals, including the MGH in the neighborhood, and pharmaceutical companies.  If one picks up a research publication in epigenetics today for instance, it is highly likely that Covaris appears in the methods section. Laugharn informed members that the major areas of application of Covaris instruments are in gene therapy, oncology, epigenetics and means for combining drug ingredients. The company offers instruments of different sizes and capabilities, and on-going innovations in consumable products and protocols for various applications. 

Joined by her daughter, Fiona who is based in London, Laugharn gave a summary of her life experiences from childhood to her massive success in the world of biotech today.  Laugharn grew up on Jersey Shore, a commuting suburb of New York City with three other siblings.  Self-described as having been a tall and shy teenager, Laugharn recalled and that a blood typing lab session in the 8th grade sparked her interest in the field of biology. Throughout her school years, she excelled in math and science and in high school, joined the Forensic Society to become trained in public speaking (not be mistaken for forensics in science). A lover of nature and life sciences, hiking has always been among her favorite pastime activities. She also spent four years in a sailing group as a Girl Scout. 

Laugharn went on to obtaining her bachelor’s degree at Boston College in biology, with a minor in chemistry, and held an internship position at Tufts Medical Center where she conducted electron microscopy work in lymphocytes.  After a year traveling around Europe, she went back to the field of microscopy in a pathology lab at MGH.  Laugharn soon developed a passion for lab equipment and an interest in the complex software component of microscopes.  She then learned to code quickly and enrolled in a Master’s degree program in engineering at Boston University. Well-equipped with her background in biology, combined with her newly gained engineering skillsets during the ‘80s tech industry boom, she initially worked purely as a software engineer, then shifted gears to became a liaison between engineers and customers. She excelled in her new role in marketing and sales.  In 1986, she became the cover girl for handheld computers – it was her idea that a lady holding one would make it look sleek. 

After handheld computers, Laugharn worked at Bard Electrophysiology during an exciting time when defibrillators were emerging. She met her now husband, Jim and soon started a family with two children and Corgis.  Juggling her busy work schedule that included traveling, meanwhile having a young family proved to be challenging, as anticipated. During that overwhelmingly busy time, her husband started Covaris, Inc. Although initially hesitant to join him at his startup, she stepped in to take over the responsibility of all the finances, human resources and IT – areas in which she had extensive experience. Laugharn told members how she learned to “embrace a lot of risk” while showing pictures of the beginnings of Covaris in their 2,500 square-foot Winchester home, to the current 40,000 square-foot facility in Woburn, where additionally to the innovations and strategic planning, all the manufacturing also takes place.  The company is gearing up for further expansion, with anticipated new distribution centers and registered offices internationally.

“Business is like an organism,” Laugharn spoke, and that the key to her success lies in anticipating the evolving needs of consumers and a focus on innovation, while ensuring topnotch quality of products.  Another piece of advice that Laugharn gave was the importance of “not overreacting to both good and bad news, as to not derail.”  Members also enjoyed learning its namesake – from “covariance” in statistics.  Currently, she is “practicing retirement” and exploring ideas for her next step after Covaris – perhaps in nature-related non-profits. 

Members were delighted for the opportunity to continue conversations with Laugharn and her daughter at the “Afterglow” gathering at 75 Chestnut.  For more information about the plethora of events offered during the current BHWF season and to purchase membership, visit www.beaconhillwomensforum.org.

Hidden Gardens Tour set for May 16

The 2019 Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill Annual Tour is scheduled for Thursday, May 16, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The annual tour of the Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill honors a long tradition of urban gardening in Boston.

Save $10 with Early-Bird tickets @ $50 now through May 9.

Full-Price tickets @ $60 from May 10-16.

Our website will help you plan a great day on Beacon Hill. 


Local student recognized for academic excellence at Tufts University

Eoghan Downey, of Beacon Hill , was named to the dean’s list at Tufts University for the Fall 2018 semester. Dean’s list honors at Tufts University require a semester grade point average of 3.4 or greater.

Tufts University, located on campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville and Grafton, Massachusetts, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university’s schools is widely encouraged.

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