Sweden Yocom is a Research Investigator at DuPont. For over 200 years, DuPont has been synonymous with life-changing discoveries and scientific know-how, reinventing themselves along the way.
Sweden Yocom’s Story
When did your interest in science or engineering begin?
I have always loved Mathematics but in sixth grade, after taking Chemistry and Physics, I knew I wanted to be more involved in STEM fields. I found them fascinating.
What was it like to be a woman studying in your field?
I grew up in Vietnam with both parents as educators who taught me that woman could do anything. In reality, however, the fields of science are engineering were dominated by men. Determined to be accepted into the prestigious Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology, the only center in South Vietnam that trained technical engineers, I spent three years in high school preparing for and achieved high marks in the college entrance exams. At the time of my application to the University, the female to male ratio was 1:10.
Share with us some of your career highlights.
I am a Research Investigator at DuPont and have developed a strong technical reputation internally and externally through sustained and impactful contributions utilizing a blend of technical knowledge, leadership skills, and business acumen.
Over my 15-year engineering career, I have implemented many innovative process improvements using Lean & Six Sigma methodologies resulting in safe, enhanced manufacturing practices as well as cost savings, scaled up and commercialized various products used in life-impacting applications in the Healthcare Industry, methodically solved problems to meet customer critical requirements. In 2015, after successfully leading a project in methodical and timely manner to allow customer to meet nationwide product launch target, I was recognized with the Manufacturing Excellence Award.
In addition to a B.S in Chemical Engineering, I earned an MBA in 2014. During the last 7 years, I also served as an economic evaluator in part-time capacity, providing business insights and comprehensive financial analysis for the entire DuPont Healthcare Business portfolio to assist with critical investment decisions, portfolio management, project prioritization, future growth, and profitability.
To date, what project is your greatest innovation success? What is the story behind it?
Among my Engineering accomplishments, I am most proud of my contributions toward the development and commercialization of the novel Silicone Acrylate Hybrid Pressure Sensitive Adhesives (SilAc PSA) which are currently being formulated and clinically trialed in several transdermal drug delivery systems for some critical therapies such as hypertension, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease etc. I served on the project team in various capacity over the commercialization process.
As a process engineer, I’ve developed and implemented a safe and effective multi-step process to manufacture the products to meet many critical customer specifications as well as regulatory requirements. After numerous chemical routes tested and found ineffective, I trialed and applied the product purification method via mechanical devolatilization using a twin-screw extruder to effectively remove impurities and known skin sensitizers (acrylates) without degrading the heat sensitive SilAc material. In addition, I worked with equipment vendor to design an additional extrusion stage to complete the solvent-exchanging step within the extruder which eliminated personnel exposure to harmful solvents, improved process efficiency by 40% and significantly reduced capital investment and footprint. These innovative solutions not only enabled safer products in healthcare applications but also allowed final product offerings to be available in alternative solvents and made it possible for customers to formulate the transdermal patches.
Later in the process, I became the project leader and have successfully driven the project through many milestones to install pilot unit, commission manufacturing process and delivered products to many customers for various stages of clinical trials. I also evaluated various capital investment options to ensure the project health and attractiveness within the overall portfolio. Of course, my contributions were only made possible by working with a truly supportive team and an innovation-focus company.
Tell us about something that made you grow the most as a leader in your field.
Curiosity, Perseverance, Industrious, and Collaboration
How are you and/or your company bringing innovation to the forefront?
I started my career in the Healthcare Industry with Dow Corning, the industry leader in silicone materials before the business became part of DuPont through merger and acquisition. Dow Corning™, now DuPont Liveo™, Healthcare silicones have consistently delivered innovative healthcare solutions to improve quality of life as well as assisting in the most impactful lifesaving applications. Resistance to bacteria, non-reactive and hypoallergenic, heat, cold and ultraviolet radiation resistance are some of the key properties that make silicones easy to sterilize and excellent for sensitive applications. Silicones have major medical contributions from needle coating to topical medications, infant care to pacemakers, medical devices to single-use bioprocessing systems for pharmaceutical processing and vaccine production. Silicones’ adhesion properties also contribute to improvements in safe wound management and transdermal drug delivery systems.
Over the years, I have led the development of many manufacturing processes, implemented innovative process improvements to deliver safe and enhanced manufacturing practices, scaled up and commercialized new products, managed technology portfolio, delivered solutions to meet customer critical needs, and provided technical support in developing new customer applications.
What advice do you have for future female engineers?
Be curious, ask questions, be humble, believe in yourself, and go for it!