On June 6, I attended AkzoNobel's inaugural North American Innovation Conference, held at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The venue was an ideal setting to celebrate the company's achievements in science and industry, and honor Professor Krzysztof (Kris) Matyjaszewski, Ph.D., of Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, with the first-ever the North American Science Award for his vast work in polymer chemistry research.
The award, established in conjunction with the American Chemistry Society (ACS), "recognizes outstanding scientific contributions in the fields of chemistry or materials science, carried out in the U.S. or Canada." In addition, the award aims to promote innovative contributions that will help create a more sustainable future.
AkzoNobel prides itself on its innovation. At the conference, the company highlighted several areas of research focusing on sustainability and energy efficiency in both industrial and commercial sectors, such as improving carbon dioxide capture in power plants to creating more powerful, sustainable cleaning agents for fabric care. An "Innovation Showcase" displayed current sustainable and innovative product offerings ranging from chelating agents that help increase oil recovery to an adhesive film that automobile owners can use to repair and protect car surfaces against scratches and chips.
Keeping with the innovation theme, keynote speaker, Michael Treacy, founder and president of Treacy & Co., a business strategy consulting firm, and author of "Double Digit Growth," noted the challenges chemical makers face to innovate and remain competitive in today's global marketplace. In his address, "Reinventing Product Innovation," Treacy urged CEOs to find ways to lure talent and focus on developing effective and efficient R&D programs that merge research with marketing and other areas of the business, as well as develop strong customer service and support to remain competitive and retain customers.
In a panel consisting Dr. Graeme Armstrong, managing director, surface chemistry and regional director, North American operations, AkzoNobel; Professor Matyjeaszewski; Ernie Rosenberg, president and CEO, American Cleaning Institute; Don Thorp, president and CEO, Prinova Group, LLC; and Treacy further discussed the challenges to innovate in the chemical sector, such as meeting compliance and government regulations, recruiting and retaining new talent and competing with lower-cost, high-volume-generating global markets.
The focus then turned to Matyjeaszewski. "We have been honoring outstanding scientific contributions for more than 40 years and are privileged to recognize the work of Professor Matyjaszewski," said AkzoNobel CEO Ton Büchner. "As a company, we are deeply committed to creating a more sustainable future through scientific research and we will continue to support visionary scientists as they strive to advance our understanding in all fields of chemistry and materials science."
The AkzoNobel Science Award was first bestowed in the Netherflands in 1970 and extended to Sweden in 1999. As the company expanded globally, the award was introduced to China in 1010, the U.K. in 2012 and North America in 2013.
Cited in scientific literature more than 50,000 times, Matyjaszewski's achievements include the discovery of the atom radical transfer polymerization (ARTP) process. He received a $75,000 cash award and a certificate of recognition during the presentation ceremony.
Over the years, Proffesor Matyjaszewski has received numerous awards and when sitting down to talk with him, I asked what this particular award means to him. "The ACS AkzoNobel North America Science Award is among the most prestigious prizes, but it is also very special because it comes from both ACS and AkzoNobel, combining scientific accomplishments with industrial relevance," he says.
Matyjaszewski's work focuses on achieving several aspects of sustainable chemistry. He recognizes that "on one side it is very important to use environmentally benign systems, including aqueous media, diminished amount of catalysts and compounds from renewable resources. However, on the other side, it is important to use highly selective processes that can be done with low energy requirement and zero waste. Finally, new materials can provide new possibilities of recycling, self-healing, etc."
When discussing challenges he's working to address in his research on controlled radical polymerization, Matyjaszewski notes that "successful polymer chemistry requires very high selectivities — often exceeding 99.99% — but also very precise design of macromolecules in the sense of a shape (for example, making not only linear chains but also rings, combs, stars, brushes or networks with precisely controlled mesh size), and polymers with controlled composition or functionalities. Such well-defined materials start self-assembling to nanostructured morphologies and have many potential applications as advanced materials in various nanotechnological or biomedical areas. Sometimes they can behave as intelligent materials responding to various stimuli, but in the future, perhaps also as self-repairing or self-replicating systems."
Matyjaszewski's dream is not only to make new chemical compounds and understand how their structures can affect chemical reactivities or final materials properties, but also to make them for the benefit of society. "I was very lucky that … ARTP — that we discovered 18 years ago — has been already used in industry and we signed 14 commercial licenses. I hope that the current positive economic trends in the chemical industry [and] in the U.S will continue and there will be space for more innovation, leading to new processes and better materials designed by precise macromolecular engineering," he concludes.
Amanda Joshi, Managing Editor