3M scientists are changing the way we live everyday- and Dr. Kris Thurnhorst is no exception. She joins us to share her experience as a Senior Research Specialist in 3M’s Industrial Adhesives and Tape Division.
I’ve always been a curious person, taking note of everything around me. As I progressed through school, I would notice products in a store and think, “One day, I want to know something is on that shelf because I helped put it there!” I went to college to study engineering, motivated by an interest to make a difference, and to make the world a better place in whatever way I could contribute.
It’s amazing how behaviors like keeping an open mind, listening to customers, and having a good technical understanding can work together to yield some pretty cool discoveries. I found myself in just such a situation a few years ago, working in 3M’s Nanotechnology area. Just prior, 3M scientists from diverse areas of expertise collaborated to develop nanoparticles, which in this case are extremely tiny particles, so small they are invisible to the naked eye! My team built on their work and discovered that these nanoparticles could be added to coatings (resins) and used in fibrous composites. You probably have fibrous composites in your home today, like high-performance carbon fiber composite sporting goods: hockey sticks, tennis rackets, bike wheels, fishing rods, or even snow skis. We found that pressure vessels are special fiber composite structures that are improved through the use of our nanoparticle resins. Our nanoparticle resins allow fibrous composites and pressure vessels to be made more efficiently, with lighter weight. This discovery allows for lighter (but bigger!) fuel tanks to hold compressed natural gas (CNG) for powering vehicles, like pickup trucks, semi-trucks, and refuse trucks. Drivers are very excited to use CNG as a fuel for their vehicles because it costs about half as much as gasoline! These discoveries, and the work and contributions of many exceptional team members, have led to a new business for 3M – CNG Pressure Vessels for Transportation.
My team developed new products that literally created new business for 3M, and in record time! It wasn’t easy, but we were fueled by our own motivation to produce a meaningful solution that could result in powerful environmental change and use of a domestic fuel source. People can do absolutely amazing things when their passion aligns with their work, and these new products are just such an example.
When you’re applying science to innovation, it’s important to have a vision for the ultimate outcome…in my case, a tangible product resulting from my direct contribution, creativity, and analysis as a critical thinker – and working at a company as broad and diverse as 3M has enabled me to do just that. I have access to the scientific equivalent of a “candy store” of technologies, with flexibility to mix and match in the quest to discover new solutions to all sorts of problems. I’m lucky to be in the company of brilliant and passionate people who never give up on this pursuit. The culture at 3M revolves around collaboration, working with others to transform collective ideas and perspectives into reality.
I encourage all the young scientists out there to pursue your dreams! We need you out there inventing things we haven’t even dreamed of yet. Keep your mind open. Every important change starts with someone who has the vision. But it takes passion and energy to make it a reality. Learn and collaborate. I can’t wait to see what your world has in store for me!
Dr. Thunhorst shared even more about her career during the 2013 Young Scientist Challenge final event. Watch the clip here.
Hear from other 3M scientists at http://scienceofeverydaylife.com/innovation/meet-the-scientists.cfm.