At 29, Kyle Hart has launched an innovative polyolefin packaging resin for Dow Chemical Co. that's already sold millions of pounds. And he says he's just getting started.
"My current job is my first plastics job, polyethylene product R&D in the Packaging and Specialty Plastics group at Dow Chemical. The plastics industry interested me because after studying materials science and polymer physics in grad school, I was eager to use my fundamental knowledge to create tangible products with the potential for profound societal impact toward sustainability," he said.
"Plastics was a great fit. Being able to devote myself toward the development of molecular structures in plastic packaging that improves the recyclability, reduces the amount of waste generated and is more energy efficient has been a rewarding experience."
Hart, who is from Hermitage, Pa., and has a doctorate in material science and engineering from Penn State University, is quick to add another, more personal achievement: He and his wife, Andréia, just had their first son, Benjamin.
Biggest failure and what it taught you? Failure has taught me that you do not control what happens, but you can control how you respond. If you have good intentions coupled with this mindset, failures don't exist. For example, after a particularly difficult series of failed experiments, I was getting frustrated. After taking a step back and trying to get some perspective, I was able to see that our key hypothesis had a glaring fault. Seeing that mistake allowed me to change approaches and then really understand the fundamental mechanism. I had been too blinded by my own enthusiasm to rush to a solution, that I hadn't fully vetted the ideas.
What is your current challenge at work? Leading a global polyethylene technical development project team. This requires effective communication and collaboration with many experts, such as in materials science, catalysis, manufacturing, marketing, supply chain, sales, value chain, technical service, senior leadership and business stakeholders.
Alignment of such a team can only be accomplished with clear, concise and comprehensive information, all while competing in the fast-paced plastics industry. I strive to do this while focusing on engaging and inspiring people around me to look at problems differently, see opportunity in challenges and achieve our goals.
What emerging technology or market most interests you? There are many, but the one that I think has huge potential is the combination of the internet of things and data science. With the continued implementation of the internet of things, scientists and engineers will have access to incredible amounts of information. As a result of this flood of high-quality data, data scientists will be able to model complex relationships that haven't been considered. This will facilitate product innovations, efficiencies and development opportunities like never before.
What about the plastics industry surprises you? The level of scientific innovation that continues to occur in this industry. From the outside it may seem as though plastics is an old and stale technology — this is not true. For even the simplest polymer chemical structure, polyolefins, we have a long way to go before we understand all of the governing physical principles.
What is the best advice you have ever received? My father used to tell me to always be a craftsman. It didn't matter if you are writing an article, giving a presentation or designing an experiment, you should have pride in your work — be a craftsman.
What do you do to relax? At the moment, I am enjoying trying to cook new foods, such as baking bread, grilling meats and making desserts to name a few. Cooking is chemistry where you get to lick the spoon!