At a Glance

Year: ‘74
Major(s): Chemistry
Why study analytical chemistry? “The ability to go into a laboratory and actually do experiments is what got me really interested in analytical chemistry."

Chemistry BS

As a chemistry major, you will gain the expertise needed to enter the workforce as a chemist or enroll in graduate or professional school.

Peter Barrett ’74 went from creating new businesses to helping fund the next generation’s business ideas.

For the past 20 years, the chemistry alum has been a partner at Atlas Venture, a venture capital firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he has funded several start-up biotech companies that focus on developing new therapies for diseases.

“I meet a lot of interesting people with really good ideas,” says Barrett, who recalls one of his first investments with Atlas being in Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, an RNAi therapeutics company.

“To see when our companies are successful in creating a new therapy, and you meet the patients that it affects, it’s really touching,” he adds.

Barrett was initially hesitant about joining Atlas because of his lack of experience in venture capital. But after talking with investors, he found similarities between his past career experience with Connecticut-based Applera, formerly known as Perkin-Elmer, and being a venture capitalist.

“Being a venture capitalist is really like what I had been doing internally for Applera, where I was starting new business ventures all the time, except I’d be a coach versus a player,” he says.

Barrett spent nearly 20 years at Applera, where he worked his way up to vice president of corporate planning and business development. In this role, he created new businesses in automation and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) within the company.

“We were the company that commercialized PCR instruments for the research world,” he says.

Barrett went on to co-found Celera Genomics, which announced the first successful sequencing of the human genome in 2000. Then-President Bill Clinton honored Celera Genomics at the White House, but Barrett had other plans that day.

“It was my parents’ anniversary and we had already decided to take them on a cruise when we got a notice from the White House that they wanted us to come down for this big announcement about the genome sequencing,” he says. “So, I told them, ‘Can’t go. Sorry.’”

Barrett says his career successes stem from his time at UML predecessor Lowell Technological Institute. As a Peabody, Massachusetts, native who grew up with four siblings, Barrett chose to go to Lowell Tech for both its educational offerings and its affordability.

With an interest in science, Barrett pursued a chemistry major, interning in the lab of Professor Emeritus Eugene Barry, who introduced Barrett to analytical chemistry.

“The ability to go into a laboratory and actually do experiments is what got me really interested in analytical chemistry,” he says.

Barrett went on to volunteer in the laboratory at nearby Lowell General Hospital to get a better understanding of analytical chemistry in the medical field.

He continued his education at Northeastern University, where he earned a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry. For the past five years, he taught at Harvard Business School, where he remains an executive fellow for the school’s Blavatnik Fellowship in Life Science Entrepreneurship. 

Barrett continues to give back to the UMass Lowell community, including with a recent donation to CatalyzeUML, a summer program for incoming, first-year chemistry majors that launched in 2022.

“CatalyzeUML is a great program; I love that it helps chemistry students get a head start in college,” he says. 

Benefits of CatalyzeUML

Peter Barrett headshot
“CatalyzeUML is a great program; I love that it helps chemistry students get a head start in college.”