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Earl B. Barnes Award For Leadership In Chemical Research Management

Sponsored by Dow Chemical

by Kimberly R. Twambly
February 14, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 7

Credit: DuPont
Credit: DuPont

When Uma Chowdhry, chief science and technology officer emeritus of DuPont, retired at the end of 2010 with 33 years of service, the first thing she did was “disconnect from professional activity for four weeks and go to India to be with family and friends,” she says. Then she got back to work.

In addition to continuing to serve DuPont in an advisory capacity, Chowdhry was appointed last year to the board of directors of Cary, N.C.-based diversified technology company Lord Corp. She is also serving a three-year term on the National Institute of Standards & Technology’s Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology, the agency’s primary private-sector policy advisory group.

She is a member of an American Academy of Arts & Sciences committee that is exploring new models for university-industry partnerships—a career-long interest of hers—and of a committee sponsored by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Public Policy studying the future of energy in the U.S. And following a history of serving on advisory boards for universities including the University of Delaware, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Pennsylvania, and Princeton University, she currently serves on a board advising Stanford University’s chemical engineering department.

If those activities weren’t enough to keep her busy, Chowdhry also has plans to further explore her interest in art. She serves on the board of the Delaware Museum of Art and, mirroring part of her technical career, has particular interest in art created from ceramic materials.

But Chowdhry’s career at DuPont is what garnered her this award. Among her notable technical accomplishments, she worked on several heterogeneous catalyst systems, including those for 1,4-butanediol, tetrahydrofuran, and polytetrahydrofuran. For some of these systems, she led the business for commercial production.

Early in her career, Chowdhry built a corporate center focused on ceramic materials for electronic and structural applications. “I set up what was a new model for us at the time; the group was centrally managed with corporate funds and had team members from various businesses,” she says. Her group developed and commercialized a substrate for high-reliability ceramic packages for electronic circuitry, a product DuPont still sells.

Chowdhry held numerous leadership positions during her career, culminating in the role she took on in 2006 as senior vice president and chief science and technology officer. She offers a few words to describe her management philosophy: “I have been a strong proponent of science and technology and a promoter of new ideas with a high respect for people. My philosophy is to give people the space to grow to their fullest potential and create a supportive environment in which teams work well together.”

Chowdhry’s colleagues clearly agreed with her self-assessment. In 2003, she became the first recipient of DuPont’s Leadership Excellence Award.

Chowdhry received a B.S. in physics from the Institute of Science, Mumbai, in 1968; an M.S. in engineering science from California Institute of Technology in 1970; and a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from MIT in 1976. She became a fellow of the American Ceramic Society in 1986, of the National Academy of Engineering in 1996, and of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2003.

Chowdhry will present the award address before the Division of Organic Chemistry.


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