Vinod Konaganti, 35
Product Development Research Scientist, Nova Chemicals Corp.
Vinod Konaganti was born in Eluru, India, and earned his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University and his master's degree in chemical engineering from the Indian Institute of Science. After obtaining his master's degree, he worked as a senior research engineer for about three years for the Advanced Engineering Group at TVS Motor Co. in Chennai, India.
Konaganti moved to Vancouver to pursue his doctorate in chemical and biological engineering at the University of British Columbia and worked as a research assistant in the polymer processing and rheology lab. He became a product development research scientist in polyethylene product research and development at Calgary, Alberta-based polyethylene resin supplier Nova Chemicals Corp., where he has been since October 2016.
"My first and current plastics industry job is with Nova Chemicals in Calgary. … In my role, I work on multiple projects with cross-functional teams on the design, scale-up and commercialization of new/novel polyethylene grades for recyclable flexible packaging applications," he said.
"As a part of my Ph.D. thesis, I had the opportunity to work on a very interesting research project with diverse team members from industrial, academic, government partners. Seeing the success of this collaborative project and how advanced polymer research can help deliver sustainable solutions prompted me to look for opportunities to support new resin developments with real-world applications," he added.
Konaganti has published more than 20 journal articles; is named on roughly 20 patent filings, of which six have been awarded so far; and has given presentations at more than 10 international conferences. For more than six years, he has been a peer reviewer for Physics of Fluids, a peer-reviewed scientific journal that covers polymer fluid dynamics and processing operations.
He has been actively involved in the Society of Plastics Engineers for the past eight years. "As a member of SPE, I have published and presented original plastics research work in many of their international conferences and proceedings," he said.
He is also involved with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta, Polymer Processing Society and the Calgary Food Bank.
Konaganti said his greatest achievement has been "the development of novel polyethylene products using a new catalyst technology from concept to commercialization that are suitable for recyclable flexible packaging applications."
"The newly developed polyethylene grades have superior sealing and mechanical properties required to maintain the package integrity in flexible packaging and to enable [a] circular economy. This was only possible by comprehensive understanding of customer needs and translating those needs to technoeconomically feasible resin designs," he said.
Konaganti was nominated by Andie Stiles, marketing communications and trade PR manager of Nova Chemicals.
"It's an exciting time to be in the plastics industry," Konaganti said.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Konaganti: "Don't give up." This is the advice I received from one of my professors from engineering school. I was having [a] tough time to solve a complicated problem from a "Structural Mechanics" assignment. My professor saw me struggling and mulling over the question. He approached me and said to me: "Don't give up; just start working on the problem in your own approach." I did finally manage to solve the problem, but the advice he gave me stuck in my mind since then.
I believe that no problem is too big to solve; either it is technical or nontechnical.
Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?
Konaganti: I am constantly amazed by the ability of the industry to successfully adapt to ever-changing priorities amidst ambitious plastics circular economy and net-zero carbon emissions goals. And the way the plastics industry turns these challenges into opportunities by expanding recycling infrastructure, investing in recycling technologies and refining various chemical processes across the value chain for continuous improvement and growth is impressive.
Q: What should the plastics industry do to expand its efforts in diversity and inclusion?
Konaganti: Being an immigrant who moved to Canada from India at the age of 25, I do completely understand the challenges that people from visible minority groups face both in professional and personal life. I do believe that the plastics industry has come a long way expanding its efforts in diversity and inclusion, but there is room for improvement.
One area I feel industry is still lacking is diversity among leadership roles. Organizations across the plastics industry should make conscious efforts to encourage inclusion and diversity among their senior-level positions and leadership roles.
Providing equal opportunities to everyone and promoting diversity and inclusion is not just good morally but also a good thing for business growth. It is critical to take inputs from people of different outlooks as it reaps innovative thinking at the workplace. Some of the things the plastic industry could do to further improve diversity and inclusion are provide diversity training, establish a diversity and inclusion council, provide mentorships, acknowledge employee differences and encourage pay equity.