SAN DIEGO, March 17, 2016 – When Ted Germroth comes to a hurdle, he doesn’t necessarily see a boundary – he sees an opportunity. He sees the sort of challenge that propelled him to a rewarding career in chemistry.
“I get energized by tough problems,” said Germroth, “especially if I believe that a better molecular level understanding of the chemistry and mechanism can lead to a solution. The more practical the impact, the more this type problem attracts and energizes me.”
Countless people at Eastman know that the word “impact” dovetails so neatly with the name Ted Germroth that there is no visible joint line. A Senior Technology Fellow in the Advanced Materials Technology Division, Germroth is held in high esteem by his industry peers as well, which is why he was recognized with the 2016 ACS National Award in Industrial Chemistry. It is considered one of the chemical industry’s most prestigious awards, one given to individuals for outstanding contributions to chemical research, and Germroth will be the first Eastman team member to receive it.
Since he began as a chemist at Eastman in 1979, Germroth has fashioned a career marked by continual achievement, and he is a vital contributor to Eastman’s reputation for world-class technologies and its ability to innovate and deliver new processes and products. Germroth has had an integral role in a long list of successful Eastman projects and technology breakthroughs that resulted in significant commercial applications; just a few of them include Eastman Tritan™; Titan™ liquid crystal polymer, Eastar™ Bio Copolyester; the development and design of the Primester™ yarn ester process; and currently, as a program leader and technical contributor to new polymer commercialization for optical display compensation film and Crystex® new process/product development programs. His adaptable nature and innate intellectual curiosity has served Germroth well as a collaborator on such a wide range of projects. As a polymer scientist, Germroth spends ample time in the lab. But he has also climbed around countless pipes in the plant with engineers to understand mass transfer and heat transfer issues that impact industrial chemical processes. Germroth also possesses significant business insight, which is why he has a voice in strategy discussions.
“One of the great things about Eastman is that the company has allowed me to move around and do different things, especially in the last 10 years,” said Germroth, who earned his doctorate in synthetic organic chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley. “The freedom to maximize my impact on the organization is really what they’ve given me, and I’ve never misused that or let that go to waste. There are always different technologies to master and different ways to maximize impact, and I’m always conscious of that. “I’m still looking to master new fields and find new ways to contribute.”
Learning the value of hard work
Germroth learned the value of hard work in a place where things do not get done without hard work: the farm. He grew up on one in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The Germroth family owned a poultry building and Germroth remembers it well, remembers building up with his brothers and dad – who worked at a poultry processing plant – a farm that held 24,000 chickens. “I worked it,” Germroth remembers, “and it paid for my college education. We weren’t afraid of work.” When he was done with farm work, Germroth turned to chemistry. He regularly watched “Mr Ogie,” a show in 1963 made to illustrate for kids how chemistry could be a wonderful, magical thing. Germroth was hooked.
“It had lab demonstrations of why you do chemistry, and how you do chemistry and science at the lab bench,” Germroth said. “The show had this sense of adventure and discovery then; it showed you that chemistry could be fun, and that’s why I do it, still, at 63.”
Mentorship has long been a focal point for Germroth, too. Germroth is quick call out the names of those who helped him down this professional path, and he looks to do the same with colleagues at Eastman.
“One of the questions I always ask myself is: How do I impact the company more?” Germroth said. “How do I give back and earn my keep? One of the answers to that question is through mentoring. It’s exciting and rewarding for me to help others, and it’s good for the company.”
Mentoring the young engineer who would become CTO
One man who remembers well the Germroth tutelage is Steve Crawford, Eastman’s chief technology officer.
When they first crossed paths, Crawford was then a chemical engineer just out of college, and he was working in cellulose esters. Germroth recognized deep potential in Crawford and took an interest in his development. Germroth counseled Crawford; he answered his many questions; and he pushed the young engineer – hard. Crawford, a tenacious learner, relished Germroth’s mentorship. He was one of Crawford’s first supervisors, and the CTO said Germroth has remained “a great mentor” throughout his career.
“Ted shaped how I thought both inside and outside of work,” Crawford said. “I was trained as an engineer, and Ted taught me the practical importance of fundamental research and the need to provide solutions through gaining understanding at the molecular level. This included the power of collaboration of different disciplines to open new approaches to solving problems – while never losing sight of the customer and market need.
“Ted always had time to coach and always had ideas for how I could improve and be more effective. Ted cared about my personal development, and I am very thankful I had the opportunity to learn from him.”
ACS award furthers Germroth’s passion project
Germroth will receive a $5,000 stipend from the ACS as part of his award, and he and his wife, Debbie, plan to pay it forward. They have already earmarked it for a passion project close to their hearts: education and empowerment efforts for young women in Tanzania, Africa. Their daughter, Karah, lives in Tanzania. There she works with the Moyo wa Afrika Foundation, a non-profit organization that connects remote villages – especially girls and young women in those villages – to education and health services.
The Germroths have sponsored placement in Tanzanian boarding schools for a dozen girls, enabling them to access an education they might not otherwise receive and realize a greater potential. They have visited their daughter twice to see their two grandchildren – Karah met her husband in Tanzania – and to see first-hand how she is making a difference. “We’re very proud of her work,” Germroth said.
At the ACS spring meeting, Germroth also got the chance to pass along his love for chemistry, through a four-hour seminar designed and presented by him and colleagues selected by him. “The target audience is new graduates, and I want to help them understand what a career as a scientist in industry is, and talk to them about the technical challenges that come with that job,” Germroth said. “And I’m going to share with them that sense of adventure and fun and discovery.”
Ted Germroth and his wife, Debbie (far right), visit Tanzania to see their daughter, Karah, and two grandchildren Milalo and Kilel.
Germroth will donate a $5,000 stipend from the ACS to support educational efforts in that country.
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