Kevin Herrington, 32
Research Scientist, Braskem
With the COVID-19 pandemic, Kevin Herrington said most of his team has been working from home since March. The challenge has been in finding new ways to work and communicate with one another, but it has also created more time to examine and reprioritize projects.
"Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Braskem shut down or ran our R&D labs at limited capacity for much of 2020," he said. "Progressing projects while resource constrained and maintaining a safe working environment has been a challenge. However, by using external resources and Braskem global lab structure it has been possible."
Herrington is a research scientist at Pittsburgh-based materials firm Braskem working in polymer science. He previously worked in polypropylene product development.
Herrington received his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Lehigh University and his master's degree and Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He interned with the Savannah River National Laboratory doing research on polyelectrolyte membrane fuel cells in 2009-10.
"Up to that point, I really thought of packaging when I thought of plastics," he said. "The versatility and potential of plastics really interested me."
One accomplishment Herrington mentioned was the development and launch of Braskem's clear high-impact polypropylene thermoforming grade. "This is a 'new to the world' PP impact copolymer composition that combines low-temperature toughness with excellent clarity," he said.
Another is the invention of an injection moldable ultrahigh molecular weight PE that has better wear properties of conventional compression molded UHMWPE. The third greatest achievement Herrington mentioned was the development of "fundamental melt rheological tools to predict the extrusion foaming performance of high melt strength PP."
Herrington is involved with the Society of Plastics Engineers and Society of Rheology. He attends industry conferences and takes on projects to develop new skills.
He and his wife, Sarah, have a 6-month-old puppy named Watson. Herrington enjoys hiking, reading fantasy novels, traveling, and being part of the Three Rivers Rowing Club in Pittsburgh.
Raj Krishnaswamy, Braskem director of material science innovation, nominated Herrington for Rising Stars.
Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?
Herrington: The breadth of the industry always amazes me. It encompasses everything from large chemical plants to drink cups, cars, and artificial joints.
Q: If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?
Herrington: It would really depend on the company. One thing I think could benefit many organizations is a companywide no meeting day once a week. I know many people who spend most of their days in meetings. This has only gotten worse with so many people working remote. A day a week to process everything and do deep work could help people be more productive and force the meetings that occur on other days to be prioritized.
Q: Who is your mentor or someone you look up to?
Herrington: I look up to my boss from my internship at Savannah River National Lab, Hector Colon-Mercado. I really admire the way he lives and projects at work supported his beliefs in sustainability. He does a great job striking a work-life balance and contributing to his field.
Q: What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the plastics industry?
Herrington: The plastics industry encompasses such a broad range of careers. Reach out to someone on the career path that interests you. Get a feel for what their average day looks like. What they like and dislike about their job and what options are open to someone who takes that career.
Q: What should the plastics industry do to expand its efforts in diversity and inclusion?
Herrington: [I] think more early outreach programs, like PlastiVan, would recruit a more diverse group to the industry. For as large as the plastics industry is, I don't think most people really know what a career in the plastics industry can encompass.