Collaboration Picks Up Speed

Industry and academia pull together harder.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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Collaboration should play an important role in industry, stressed DuPont's senior   vice president and chief science and technology officer Uma Chowdhry during a March 23, speech at the American Chemical Society Presidential Symposium in San Francisco, Calif. Today the new global economy makes it the most promising time ever for chemical engineers and chemists to create innovative solutions to issues such as climate change, alternative energy, personal security and a sustainable, safe food supply, Chowdhry explained. To address such mega-challenges, college graduates require much more than scientific and technical depth in a specific area — skills for collaboration and adaptability are essential, too, Chowdhry added.

"Today, more than 8,500 DuPont scientists and engineers in every corner of the world are collaborating with customers and partners in addressing complex challenges that will define the coming decades. From production agriculture and climate change to [alternative] energy and security, our chemists and engineers work in multidisciplinary teams to create novel solutions for the needs of the developing and developed world," he said.

The company's latest collaboration is with Applied Materials, Santa Clara, Calif., a firm that specializes in applying nanomanufacturing technology. They aim to increase the efficiency of crystalline silicon photovoltaic (PV) solar cells to enable PV power to become more cost effective versus other forms of energy.

The key is to reduce the shadowing effect of wide grid lines on solar cells and improve electrical conductivity. Applied Technology's printing techniques coupled with DuPont Solamet PV metallization pastes (Figure 1) should allow narrower and taller grid lines to be precisely printed in two or more layers.

"This collaborative technology will optimize the efficiency of solar cells and meet the needs of the market by ultimately lowering total system cost," says Marc Doyle, global business director DuPont Photovoltaic Solutions, Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Of course, DuPont is hardly alone in such joint efforts. For its part, BASF, Ludwigshafen, Germany, has almost 2,000 collaborations with universities, customers and suppliers worldwide.

One of its most prominent is the BASF Advanced Research Initiative (ARI) at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. BASF provides direct funding, up to $20 million over five years. Two topics particularly interest the German company: understanding the formation of biofilms and deriving new strategies to control their growth; and developing new and improved concepts to formulate active ingredients to maximize their bioavailability.

Biofilms have both medical and industrial dimensions. They contribute to infections that afflict numerous patients at hospitals and lead to many deaths. "So there is a need for better understanding of how to control microbes/biofilms, and the need for development of new materials for medical applications," notes Dr. Jens Rieger, research director, polymer research for BASF in Ludwigshafen. Meanwhile, biofouling is a ubiquitous problem in everthing from heat exchangers and water pipes to production equipment and desalination membranes.

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