Dr. Joseph V. Kurian, Technology & Business Development Manager – DuPont Performance Materials/ABS/EP, is the scientist behind Sorona®, an amazing new polymer that can make our clothing, carpets and other everyday products much more effective—and environmentally friendly. He is also a strong supporter of science education and The DuPont Challenge.
How would you describe your job and the work you do at DuPont?
I am a polymer scientist and technology leader. My current job entails providing technology and leadership in renewably sourced materials. The goal is to prepare new high performance materials from renewable feed-stocks, make the world less dependent on petroleum and thereby provide a much cleaner environment.
What are some examples of fibers?
There are natural and synthetic fibers. Examples of natural fibers include cotton, wool and silk. Polyester, nylon and spandex are examples of synthetic fibers. Fibers are essential to our life and we see them everywhere (clothing, carpets, upholstery, car interior, toys, parachutes, tires, etc.). There are specifically engineered fibers for each applications and markets.
How would you describe a polymer?
Polymers are large molecules that play an essential role in our everyday life. Polymer molecules are connected by chemical bonds. Poly means “many” and mer means “repeating unit.”
DNA and proteins are examples of biopolymers. A variety of natural polymers exist, such as cellulose, which is the main component of wood and paper. Synthetic polymers include: polyethylene, polystyrene, PVC, neoprene and nylon. Different types of polymers can be found in famous DuPont products such as Kevlar®, Nomex®, Teflon®, Tyvek®, Butacite® and Sorona®.
How did the Sorona® Polymer come about?
The preparation and commercialization of Sorona® Polymer took several years of dedicated research and development. The process of making a polymer is called polymerization. In case of Sorona®, it is called condensation polymerization. Polymer scientists can tailor molecules in their lab to introduce desirable properties in fiber and fabric form. This can be called “macromolecular engineering.”
What makes Sorona® different from other materials?
Sorona® is a highly versatile polymer that boasts properties such as softness, stretch and recovery, comfort wear, easy dyeability for vibrant colors and stain resistance to most stains. It offers several new properties and possibilities for garment makers. For example, Sorona® containing garments are unusually soft, wrinkle-free, provides good comfort fit and easy to clean. Carpets made with Sorona® offers permanent stain resistance, softness, and resilience, all important attributes to the floor covering market.
What kinds of products has Sorona been made into? What advantages do Sorona products have over similar products?
Sorona® is in textiles and garments, carpets, automotive interiors, various molded plastics for engineering components and in cosmetic packaging. There are unique advantages in each of these markets. In engineering components Sorona® provides better dimensional stability and strength whereas in cosmetic packaging improved surface gloss, scratch resistance and excellent resistance to solvents and chemicals.
What makes Sorona “sustainable” and good for the environment?
Sorona® is an excellent example of a sustainable high-value polymer. It takes less energy to prepare the polymer, releases less carbon dioxide to the environment, is free of heavy metals, can be manufactured and processed in existing equipments, and is easily recyclable.
One of the key ingredients, bio-PDO, is made from a renewable feedstock, thereby reducing the use of petroleum. It is estimated that about 10 million gallons of gasoline per year can be saved from the production of 100 million pounds of bio-PDO.
What do you see in the future for Sorona?
I see significant growth potential for Sorona® in coming years. This will also lead into the development of a new family of environmentally sustainable renewably sourced materials with broad market applications and impact to the society.
How did you first become interested in science,
and how did you start working in science as a career?
I became curious and interested in science from my childhood, playing with rubber balls made of natural rubber latex, and trying to understand how things work. I pursued biology and chemistry in my college days in India and then got interested in polymers and polymer engineering. Coming to America and studying polymer science at the University of Akron was a huge turning point in my career. Synthesis and characterization of a new family of new polymers at Professor Kennedy's lab at the University of Akron gave me the confidence to pursue a career in science.
My early days at GE Plastics and then at DuPont Nylon gave me hands on experience in industrial chemistry, large-scale polymer manufacturing experience and familiarity with fiber science, technology, and engineering. There are several teachers and mentors who helped and guided me along the way in my career. Science is a learning process and I keep learning from my colleagues and friends every day.
What is your favorite part about your job?
The most favorite part of my job is being a scientist and inventor. Using my science skills, I see an opportunity to help people, create high paying jobs and improve the quality of life for many people around the world.
What would you say to a student who is thinking about working in a science-related
Have the passion and believe in yourself. Keep pursuing your scientific dreams and goals. Stay abreast and keep trying something new every day. Success will come.
What do you think of The DuPont Challenge essay competition?
I have very high value for The DuPont Challenge. This is an excellent opportunity for students to think differently and familiarize themselves with emerging areas of science, technology and engineering and propose novel solutions. Simple participation in The DuPont Challenge alone can open their minds to a whole new world of amazing possibilities.
Why do you think The DuPont Challenge is important?
Science, Technology, Engineering and Math will continue to play a huge role in our nation's future. Our quality of life depends on our success in this area. There will be increased competition from countries around the world and it is absolutely critical that we encourage more students to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
The DuPont Challenge is an excellent vehicle to introduce scientific concepts to a large number of students at an early age. We are instilling scientific ideas and curiosity in the minds of over 10,000 students each year through this Challenge alone.
DuPont is a Science Company and we understand the importance of Science to our future success.
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