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Material Girl

Madonna’s iconic 1985 song “Material Girl” was an evocation of the physical world’s importance compared to the more often heralded—in music at least—emotional domain. The song and its associated music video were provocative and controversial, but also helped elevate the artist to the superstar level. Wary of comparative hyperbole, CHF and Discover Magazine nonetheless followed suit with a recent evening event called “Advanced Materials: Stories of Innovation.”

Moderated by author Ivan Amato, six industry luminaries held forth for two interactive hours on both the glorious prospects and the difficult challenges facing those who wish to create new “stuff” to enrich our lives. In due course our website will have video clips of the highlights, but to whet reader’s appetites here are a few pearls from the proceedings:

Ivan Amato (author of Stuff: The Materials the World is Made Of) inspired all of us who love the periodic table to consider that everything that ever was, is, or will be is contained in that simple display.

Thomas Connelly (Executive Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer at DuPont) captured a central theme by stating that we don’t need more stuff: we need better stuff. Easy to say and not so easy to do, but a genuine challenge to imaginative science.

Ryan Dirkx (Vice President of Research and Development at Arkema) told the gripping story that launched his devotion to materials: a grad school professor hammering nails into a plank of wood with what appeared to be merely a fragile teacup (but actually a marvelous new ceramic).

Mark Doriski (Global Intermediates Technology Manager at ExxonMobil) showed that seemingly small advances could have magnified consequences—a two percent increase in gasoline efficiency would be the equivalent to having 1.5 million fewer cars on the road.

Gregory Nelson (Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Eastman Chemical) offered the insight that consumers no longer passively wait to try the exciting new materials that industry produces. Instead, people express the safety and efficacy they want and this stimulates industry to respond.

Christopher Pappas (President and Chief Executive Officer at Styron) demonstrated that clever materials chemists can now do the seemingly impossible feat of maximizing mutually opposing tendencies, with an example in the creation of rubber tires that simultaneously roll better, grip better, and last longer.

A.N. Sreeram (Vice President of Research and Development at Dow Advanced Materials) pointed out the astounding fact that the research and development budgets of the six companies represented were larger than the top 100 chemistry and chemical engineering departments. No wonder they are so innovative.

Tom Tritton is President and CEO of CHF.

Posted In: Technology

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