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Earle B. Barnes Award for Leadership in Chemical Research Management

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry

by Sophie L. Rovner
January 12, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 2

Credit: Courtesy of Gregg Zank
Credit: Courtesy of Gregg Zank

Sponsored by Dow Chemical

Gregg A. Zank, who is vice president, chief technology officer, and executive director for science and technology at Dow Corning in Midland, Mich., is being honored for accomplishments in scientific leadership, invention, staff development, and business impact.

Zank, 50, “serves a vital role” in leading the science and technology professionals at the company, President and Chief Executive Officer Stephanie A. Burns says. “He does this by upgrading how we work today, as well as defining what we need to do for the future. He has utilized internal scientists and an external technology advisory board to identify gaps in our knowledge about our current materials and processes and then initiate projects to close those gaps.”

Tobin J. Marks, professor of chemistry and of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University, says that Zank has helped make the company “a leading powerhouse for the development and commercialization of high-technology silicon-based materials.” Marks adds that “in a short but remarkably successful career, Gregg Zank has permanently changed the face of technology innovation at Dow Corning,” in part by launching an in-house Business & Technology Incubator.

The unit brings together staff with technical, marketing, supply chain, and business-building know-how to analyze major societal trends—such as increased demand for alternative energy or safety and security technology—for new market opportunities. Burns says the unit is “delivering whole new pieces of business for the sustained growth of the company.”

Zank is also encouraging his staff to more broadly meet client needs. In one instance, the company helped a client break into the South American market, where Dow Corning already had connections. Not only can that sort of service drive up sales for Dow Corning, but it also fosters a closer business relationship with the client, Zank notes. “Gone are the days when you say, ‘Here’s a 55-gal drum of the polymer. Now good luck.’ ”

But Zank is interested in more than technology. He makes Craftsman-style furniture in his spare time. And he “mentors young Dow Corning scientists to bring out the best in them and to make them productive team members,” Marks says. Zank has established programs to hire summer college interns and to reach out to students enrolled in Saginaw, Mich., public schools and in a precollege engineering program in Detroit to increase diversity in the ranks of science and technology.

Zank’s interest in science and how things work was fostered in part by an older brother who generously shared the contents of his chemistry set. Zank earned a B.A. in chemistry in 1980 at the University of Wisconsin, Superior, and a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in 1985.

He joined Dow Corning later that year as a researcher in the advanced ceramics program. In 1996, Zank and his family moved to Japan, where he served as head of the company’s Physics & Rigid Materials Expertise Center. During his five-year stint in Japan, Zank also took on the responsibilities of photonics innovation team leader and science and technology manager. After returning to the U.S., he became science and technology director for the company’s advanced technologies and ventures business. Zank was promoted to his current positions in 2003.

In setting the research agenda for Dow Corning, Zank looks for projects that will deliver across the short, medium, and long term. He says he also mixes riskier projects with those that are “right in the sweet spot for something we should be able to do.” Most important, he says, is the staff. “If you have good people, they’re going to create the right portfolio.”

Zank will present his award address before the Division of Polymer Chemistry.


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