Innovation

Celebrating Women’s History Month

As scientists, entrepreneurs and business leaders, women have blazed a trail for plastics innovations.

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Women trailblazers have charted the course for scientific discovery and innovation for decades. In celebration of Women’s History Month, we want to recognize a handful of the women leaders that have helped us pioneer and explore many of the plastic and recycling technologies we rely on today—and will continue to use in the coming decades. These women have helped change the world for the better through their advancements in plastics.

Stephanie Kwolek: Protecting first responder lives

As one of the leading scientists of the 20th century, Stephanie Kwolek’s contributions still sit at the cutting edge of plastic technologies. Formerly a DuPont chemist, Kwolek is best known for her 1965 discovery of a “super fiber” plastic known as Kevlar, characterized by its unparalleled strength and heat resistance. One of the world’s strongest plastics, Kevlar’s aramid fibers revolutionized personal and ballistic protective equipment for emergency personnel. Since its inception, Kevlar has protected first responders and frontline workers against innumerable hazards and saved thousands of lives.

For her contributions to society and innovation, Kwolek was the fourth woman inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1995, and in 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded her the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. She was also the second woman to receive the American Section of the Society of Chemical Industry’s esteemed Perkin Medal, one of the highest honors in the U.S. chemical industry.

Donna Davis: Pioneering manufacturing efficiencies

Donna Davis paved the way for advancements in polyolefin products, a family of polyethylene and polypropylene thermoplastics. The material includes some of the most widely used and affordable types of plastic, crucial to basic necessities like drinking straws, food containers, thermal clothing, and roofing material. During her decades-long tenure at ExxonMobil Chemical Co., Davis helped pioneer the first commercial metallocene-catalyzed polymers—dubbed “plastomers”—in the early 1990s, expediting the plastic packaging process by lowering the melting point needed to form a seal.

Davis remains an industry influencer, serving as the Society of Plastics Engineers’ (SPE) president from 2003-2004 and spearheading the creation of SPE’s international Polyolefins Conference.

Miranda Wang: Upcycling to limit plastic waste

Miranda Wang is the CEO and co-founder of Novoloop, formerly BioCellection, Inc., a business using groundbreaking technology to create new resources from recycled everyday plastic items, like bags, bottles, and wraps. Novoloop’s patented accelerated thermal oxidative decomposition (ATOD) process

transforms used and recycled plastics into renewable chemicals that serve as an integral building block for new materials. This process prevents 20 tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted per each ton of converted plastic waste and has the potential to keep 75,000 tons of plastic waste out of landfills and natural water resources annually.

Wang’s innovative and entrepreneurial spirit in identifying solutions for today’s most pressing plastic waste challenges has earned her recognition from others. In 2018, the United Nations Environment Programme awarded Wang, at only 24 years old, with a Young Champions of the Earth award for her innovative take in merging the worlds of waste management and chemistry. Forbes also namedher to its 30 under 30 list of social entrepreneurs in 2019.

LaShanda Korley: Transforming polymer properties

As an expert in polymer science, LaShanda Korley pushes the envelope in scientific innovation through her contributions to the bio-inspired materials design and manufacturing fields. As co-leader of the University of Delaware’s (UD) Center for Plastics Innovation (CPI), Korley is driving research breakthroughs in advanced recycling by exploring new ways to catalyze the breaking down of plastics. Korley and her team experiment with chemical and enzyme applications to “de-polymerize polymers” and recover new base materials that can be used to make new resources, like fuels and lubricants.

In addition, Korley has participated in groundbreaking research to enhance the makeup of polymers to strengthen the building blocks used to make plastics, gels, and, even, 3D-printed objects.

Maureen Steinwall: Moving industry forward

Maureen Steinwall’s decades-long curiosity in and natural tact for communications, accounting, data science, marketing operations, human resources, have positioned her as a modern-day “Renaissance woman.” For more than 30 years, Steinwall has managed her family business, Steinwall, Inc., a plastic injection molding manufacturing company headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota. With more than 130 employees, Steinwall, Inc. is primarily recognized for its reliable products, along with its culture of excellence, integrity, and ingenuity. Under Steinwall’s leadership, the company has received countless awards for its education and performance trainings, many of which serve as a model for new hire orientation within the plastic industry.

Inspiring the next generation

With their discoveries and life’s work, these women have furthered their respective fields and changed the world around us in meaningful ways. Through their brilliant breakthroughs, they’ve crafted real-world applications for plastics that further innovation, keep us safe, and create a lasting legacy for the next generation of women who pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

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