The following post is part of a special blog series highlighting the importance of our O’Donnell Awards program and its impact on the program’s past recipients in medicine, engineering, science, and technology innovation, as well as the importance of scientific research to Texas. The 2014 O’Donnell Awards recipients have each agreed to contribute to the blog series.
The third post in this series was written by Dr. Thomas Truskett, recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award in Engineering. Dr. Truskett was recognized for fundamental contributions in three areas—self-assembly at the nanoscale, dynamics of confined liquids, and structural arrest of complex fluids—that are important for applications ranging from biomedical imaging to the delivery of therapeutic proteins.
Dr. Thomas Truskett, Recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award in Engineering
By Thomas Truskett, Ph.D.
Through discovery and innovation, scientists and engineers have a long history of addressing challenges critical to our health, prosperity, and security; i.e., to our quality of life. Since the latter is a priority for the citizens of most communities, a practical question arises. What can be done now (e.g., as a city, state, nation, etc.) to encourage and support a lasting culture of discovery and innovation? More specifically, what actions can be taken to help create and sustain the necessary human capital and infrastructure, as well as the resources and incentives, for these activities to thrive over the long term?
The answers are, of course, community specific and require understanding a complex landscape of political, strategic, and economic considerations. Private investors and companies have financial incentives to support development of promising and profitable technologies, and—all else equal—they favor investments in locations with a healthy business environment, a vibrant technological sector, and a highly skilled workforce, often in close proximity to prestigious tier-one research universities. The latter can be particularly helpful because the intersection of education and the world-class research characteristic of tier-one institutions not only helps to attract and retain top faculty and students, but it also produces a steady stream of graduates educated in a culture of discovery and innovation. More broadly, the tier-one university goals of educating future leaders and creating and disseminating new knowledge complement those of a robust technological sector.
But that still leaves the question of what to do to cultivate an environment conducive to the long-term success of tier-one research universities? In addition to providing the necessary funding for world-class faculty and facilities (dollar amounts that get repaid many times over by the economic impact of these institutions), further investments need to be made to broadly support a culture of discovery and innovation. In Texas, one successful and forward-thinking example of such an initiative is The Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas (TAMEST), founded a decade ago to recognize and bring together the top innovators in the state of Texas, including members of The National Academies as well as rising stars. Through its annual conferences and critical issues forums, as well as through the annual O’Donnell Awards, TAMEST has created something truly unique in Texas: a relevant innovation connection point for top educators, researchers, professionals, industry practitioners, media, and the public.
I experienced first-hand the benefits of TAMEST over the last year after being selected as the recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award for Engineering. It’s hard to describe how quickly giving an O’Donnell Awards Lecture at the annual conference in front of hundreds of Academy members and rising stars opens new doors for collaboration. This type of broad exposure is especially important in highly interdisciplinary fields like some of those in which I and my collaborators work, including computational material design and engineering liquid forms of biological therapeutics for at-home treatment of disease. Based on interactions and conversations associated with the O’Donnell Awards and the annual conference, I learned of fascinating complementary approaches, techniques, and ideas from other areas of science and engineering that advanced our research capabilities, and I have also established entirely new collaborations that are broadening the impact of our work. As the new year approaches, I look forward to the chance to return and participate in the annual conference and contribute to what has become a powerful and enlightening interaction forum for discovery and innovation in Texas.
By Thomas J. Lange
We take them for granted, those products that help us start nearly every day. We shampoo and condition our hair, wash our skin, dry off with a fresh-smelling towel, shave, brush our teeth, fix our hair. Maybe we’ll also change the baby, feed the dog, start the dishwasher.
For more than seven generations, P&G has been inventing the products and building the brands aimed at making the morning’s start, and the day, just a little better. From the candle that lit the morning gloom in the 1837, to the floating bar of Ivory soap—‘99 44/100% Pure.’ To today, with brands like Pantene, Gillette, Crest, Covergirl, Hugo Boss, Pampers, Charmin, Cascade, Tide….
What most people don’t know is that behind each of those daily experiences, lays an amazing amount of Science, Engineering, and High Performance Computing.
P&G doesn’t usually talk about that because consumers really care more that Charmin is soft and strong, not really how it got that way. So, instead of an engineer in a white coat standing in front of a specialized machine making Charmin, we create ads with Mr. Whipple the friendly, quirky, grocer and today, cuddly cartoon bears.
From an Engineering perspective, this can leave the impression that everyday consumable goods are ‘low tech’—when the challenges our Scientists and Engineers face everyday are very much Rocket-Science hard. You see, our job is to break engineering ‘contradictions,’ and that is quite a challenge. For rocket science, it’s controlling an explosion—something that is inherently uncontrollable.
For us, we need to make Charmin that dissolves when wet, but is strong AND soft when dry. Bounty must be absorbent, but VERY strong when wet. Pampers need to be absorbent—but fit and comfort babies like cloth. Laundry treatments need to remove stains, but protect fabrics—including cloth dyes—and be concentrated yet still easy to use. Containers should never leak, but open easily. Containers, when dropped, should not break—but use a bare minimum of plastic that also recycles. Most importantly, all these products must be a good value for improving daily life, not just affordable for use once in a while.
Tide PODS® is truly a “one-wash wonder,” enabled by sophisticated computer simulation technology. The challenge of bringing together three different liquids into one pod, separated by a film that is both able to dissolve in cold water yet not dissolve from exposure to the contents is quite complicated. We had to do sophisticated computer simulations of how the pod could be mass produced without leaking—one splash droplet in the wrong place and we have a mess.
Diapers create another technological challenge. They need to fit like pants, but keep the baby and its surroundings dry and fit almost any size and shape. While there are thousands of baby shapes, no one can provide hundreds of sizes. Instead, we offer four to six options for the first two years of life. To get this right, we have teams working with computer models and simulations to identify what stretches where; how the waist band surrounds the tummy; and how leg holes will fit for both small and larger legs alike.
Finally, think about a shaving system that removes hair close to the skin, but protects your skin. The physics of hair removal, what pulls, what cuts, how sharp or slick the blade needs to be, at what angle the blade needs to be, all is precisely evaluated and determined by computer simulation.
Thomas Edison found 1000’s of things that did not work in his search for the materials that made the light bulb possible. We even have a name for that approach: ‘Edisonian investigation.’ For our products, we too are always ‘looking for a better way.’ High Performance Computing and the Engineering and Science Modeling & Simulation that it enables make possible hundreds of thousands of iterations on the computer in less time and with less cost. That allows us to continue our brands’ promise that our great, great, great grandchildren will start their day a little better than we did today.
The Procter & Gamble Company supports a number of programs and projects aimed at putting high-tech Modeling & Simulation tools in the hands of small businesses to help accelerate innovation and U.S. manufacturing quality.
Thomas J. Lange, Director, R&D, Modeling & Simulation at Procter & Gamble Company was a keynote speaker at The Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas’ (TAMEST’s) Annual Conference, January 16-17, 2014. The conference addressed the computational revolution in medicine, engineering, and science. Click to view a video of Lange’s keynote address.