“I learned to not be intimidated by the problem.”
Paula Hammond is in pursuit of the invisible. In her lab at MIT she creates technologies so small that you can’t see them with most microscopes—that is, until they save a soldier’s life on the battlefield, or illuminate light bulbs using stored solar power.
Chemistry captured Hammond’s imagination when she was 15. She’d planned to be a writer, but her favorite high school chemistry teacher piqued her curiosity by explaining how two elements could be combined to create an entirely new substance. Hammond went on to excel in chemistry at MIT, one of the most rigorous scientific universities in the world, at a time when women still made up only 1/5 of the student body and there were even fewer students of color. She followed her fascination with new materials by studying nanotechnology—the creation of technologies that work at the molecular or atomic level. She’s found polymers that increase the amount of power held by solar cells and created materials that re-organize their own molecules.
In 2002 Hammond co-founded the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology, where she and her partners use their scientific know-how to make our troops safer on the ground. One of her recent discoveries is a spray coating that helps blood to clot almost instantly, a technology that could save thousands of lives and limbs a year on the battlefield.
- Read a feature article from CHF's magazine, Chemical Heritage, about the first century of chemical engineering.
- Listen to an episode of CHF's podcast, Distillations, to learn how nanofabrication works and what it has to do with chemistry.
- Read the film transcript.