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DuPont Shutting Central Research

Corporate R&D: Firm’s restructuring of storied labs comes before its merger with Dow

by Alexander H. Tullo
January 4, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 1

Science Center
Credit: DuPont
DuPont’s Experimental Station in Wilmington, Del.
Buildings near a river.
Credit: DuPont
DuPont’s Experimental Station in Wilmington, Del.

DuPont Central Research & Development, one of the most prestigious and accomplished research organizations in the chemistry world, will soon cease to exist.

DuPont Central R&D Scored Many Victories Over The Years

1903 Francis I. du Pont founds Experimental Station in Wilmington to conduct explosives research.

1911 Station forms a chemical department, forerunner of Central R&D, to work on ammonia synthesis.

1927 Charles Stine pushes basic research programs in physical and organic chemistry, physics, and chemical engineering.

1928 Wallace Carothers begins work at Experimental Station, leading to the development of nylon.

1963 Fred Sweeny develops Nomex m-aramid fire-retardant fiber.

1965 Stephanie Kwolek discovers liquid-crystal polymers, leading to the development of Kevlar p-aramid bulletproof fiber.

1967 Charles Pedersen begins research leading to the discovery of crown ethers. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1987.

1971 Richard Rees invents Surlyn ionomer polymer modifier resins.

1975 George Levitt discovers sulfonylurea herbicides.

1994 Charlie Nakamura and associates begin charting a biological route to 1,3-propanediol, a polyester raw material.

A Dec. 17, 2015, memo laid out the company’s plan to combine DuPont Science & Technologies and DuPont Engineering into a single organization called Science & Engineering, effective Jan. 1. “As part of this integration, Central Research & Development will be substantially redesigned to become ‘Science & Innovation,’ ” states the memo, attributed to DuPont Chief Science & Technology Officer Doug Muzyka.

DuPont isn’t commenting on the fate of central research labs at its Chestnut Run facility and Experimental Station, both in Wilmington, Del.

It also isn’t clear what the jobs impact on R&D will be. A letter DuPont CEO Edward Breen sent to the firm’s Delaware-based employees on Dec. 29 disclosed that the state will see a total of 1,700 layoffs. The job eliminations and changes to R&D are part of a DuPont program to cut costs by $700 million and employment by 10% company-wide.

DuPont currently has 54,000 employees, some 6,100 of whom are located in Delaware.

The R&D restructuring comes only weeks after DuPont unveiled a $130 billion merger with Dow Chemical (see page 14). The two companies expect a further $300 million in cuts to R&D when they combine. The new firm, DowDuPont, will then break into three separate companies in about two years. One of these companies will be a specialty products firm with headquarters in Wilmington.

DuPont Central R&D is one of the world’s oldest and most venerable corporate research organizations and has often been compared to the former Bell Labs. DuPont plunged into centralized, fundamental R&D in the 1920s under the guidance of Research Director Charles M. A. Stine. Stine hired Wallace H. Carothers away from Harvard University in 1928. Carothers’s work at DuPont would lead to neoprene and nylon.

DuPont’s labs even spawned a Nobel Laureate. DuPont chemist Charles J. Pedersen shared the 1987 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Donald J. Cram and Jean-Marie Lehn for work in synthesizing macrocyclic polyethers, also known as crown ethers.

Since it broke, the news about the fate of Central R&D has stoked the passions of chemists. “The closing of a major research facility and the pressure on large corporations to eliminate spending on basic science may benefit a few wealthy investors, but it is a loss for the U.S. and the world,” noted a commenter named Roy Williams on C&EN’s website.



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