What neutrons have to do with it
Eastman adds UT as Innovation Network Partner
By Jeff Keeling
Eastman Chemical Co. has come in-state for the latest addition to its higher-education based Eastman Innovation Network. Company and University of Tennessee, Knoxville officials announced an initial three-year partnership June 22. UT will benefit from $750,000 in sponsored research endeavors between Eastman scientists and UT faculty and students, while Eastman expects to enhance its research and development capabilities in ways that ultimately provide it an edge in the marketplace. The UT partnership, which follows similar arrangements with North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, will bring particular expertise in the areas of neutron science and additive manufacturing, along with access to one of the world’s fastest computers.
During an event at Eastman headquarters, the company’s chief technology officer, Steven Crawford, said successful innovation requires focus on specific strategic areas, adaptability and a willingness to, “move with a sense of urgency and with entrepreneurship.” He said the agreement allows for all three.
“It allows Eastman to tee up our most difficult problems, it allows us to align those to our strategic markets, and it allows the researchers at the University of Tennessee to bring in capabilities that we don’t have to basically look through a different lens and solve problems in a different way. We will do this through a collaboration that has a very open innovation type model that will both allow that opportunity for entrepreneurship and also provide that speed to market that we all want.”
Taylor Eighmy, vice chancellor for research and engagement, said Eastman is an incredibly important and strategic partner for UT. He noted the many UT graduates who work at and rise to senior leadership levels at Eastman.
“Your ideas are aligned with our strengths,” Eighmy said. “Your interests in helping us shape our curriculum is important. The way we conduct R&D with you is important.”
“In many ways as we move into the modern age with our university having deep, corporate partnerships that are strategic, Eastman above all other partners is an example of the kind of partner we want to have.”
Proximity to the Spallation Neutron Source and the Joint Institute for Neutron Science at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), as well as advances in composites manufacturing research, have positioned UT to be a leader in neutron sciences. As an analytical tool, neutron scattering can yield insights into how some of the basic properties of Eastman materials ― especially thin films and advanced composites ― interact on the atomic level, which will help further fuel Eastman’s innovation activities.
Jennifer Stewart, Eastman’s vice president for corporate innovation, said the partnership with NC State already has yielded multiple patent applications and is on the cusp of producing its first commercial offering. It leverages NC State’s strengths in design, chemistry and materials science, and she expects similar benefits to both Eastman and UT in the areas of neutron science and computing.
“Getting those extra perspectives helps us accelerate our processes and it helps us have a different perspective than we have just investing in everything ourselves,” she said. “So these are absolutely essential to our front-end development and even our later-stage innovations.”
She added that UT’s ORNL connection gives Eastman access to capabilities unavailable anywhere else.
“No one else has a neutron source, no one else has that kind of computer capability.”
Though it may seem strange to imagine neutron science and supercomputing playing into Eastman’s product mix, Stewart said the company is confident in the linkage.
“Those techniques apply to everything, whether it’s our manufacturing processes, our products (or)the use of our products in an application,” Stewart said. “Where we see the power of the additive manufacturing capability at UT-Knoxville as well as the neutron science is how our materials are used in a customer’s application – s tudying at an atomic level what your products are doing in the application. The evolving piece is more just applying those to the right solutions.”
Eastman expects to issue its first call for research proposals from UT later this summer and select the initial class of projects for funding this fall.
Crawford said Eastman is “absolutely driven” to lead innovation in industry, for its customers and markets. Combined with UT’s world-renowned scientific expertise and depth in fundamental research, he said, that sets the table for a successful partnership.
“They’re also dedicated to partnering in a practical sense with industry and providing solutions that solve day-to-day problems that make our world better,” Crawford said. “So when you look at the combination of those two strategies, that’s where the synergy really is created and that’s what creates the opportunity. We are both very very confident in the success of this agreement.”