Women Behind Innovation: Melinda H. Keefe, Ph.D.

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As a 2017 recipient of the Gordon E. Moore Medal and the 2017 ACS Heroes of Chemistry Award Melinda Keefe is a testament to Dow and how the company looks to develop young talent. With a B.S. in Chemistry from Penn State University and a Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry from Northwestern University, Keefe joined Dow in 2001 and is currently the Associate R&D Director in Formulation Sciences, Core R&D.

The Edison Awards recently spoke with Keefe about her interest in science, what misconceptions she feels people have about science and some of her career highlights. Here’s what she had to say:(edited for brevity and clarity)

When did your interest in science begin?

My interest in science really began to grow in High School.  I enjoyed learning how things worked, how atoms and molecules assembled- forming the world around us.  I also found that the sciences and especially chemistry came fairly easily to me- bolstered by a fantastic women chemistry teacher whom I admired and respected for her enthusiasm and pure enjoyment of the field.  But, to be honest, my first passion was art and growing up I had visions of a life of creating, selling and teaching art. As I approached college I started to recognize the “gap” between my abilities and inspiration and the artists that I admired. I choose to attend Penn State because it offered strong programs in both art and science.   During my second semester, I decided to major in Chemistry and used all of my electives for studio art.  I quickly began a great research project under the direction of Dr. Michael Natan and his generous graduate students and haven’t looked back since.

Do you think people have any misconceptions about what it’s like to be a scientist or about the field itself?

In general, I feel there are misconceptions about the chemical industry.  Without an inside view like I have as a Dow employee, I think it would be difficult to really believe the rigor, due diligence and attention to safety that the chemical industry expends to make more sustainable and higher performing products. Dow has a strong, authentic, and very transparent commitment to the environment and communities for which they work.   What also surprised me about industrial research today is the true collaborative nature required for success.  Even after 15 years, I am amazed at the variety of skill sets and functions required to transform a concept on the white board to a commercially successful product.  Young researchers need to know that being brilliant in the laboratory is not enough.  The ability to make connections, communicate their ideas, share their knowledge and be a salesperson is just as important as being technical strong.

What is your greatest success thus far into your career?

At Dow I have had the opportunity to combine my two passions, art & science, through a skill based consulting program that leverages Dow’s technical horsepower and capabilities to difficult challenges in art conservation science. My greatest success has been connecting experts across disciplines and industries to make small but impactful contributions to art conservation science while providing fun external opportunities for Dow scientists.

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