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Women Behind Innovation: Katherine Faber

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For the last almost ten years Katherine Faber has been leading her team at Dow Construction Chemicals to success. Working to create new product development for coatings that are used in the commercial and residential building envelope, Katherine’s team is looking to change the way buildings are made.

The Edison Awards recently spoke with Faber about her interest in science, what misconceptions she feels people have about her field, and how her company is leading the way in innovation. Here’s what she had to say: (edited for brevity and clarity)

When did your interest in science begin?

Ever since I was younger, I have always enjoyed science. My Dad is a biology major, and my Mom is a nurse. They have always expressed the importance of science to us. My real interest in science and engineering began in middle school though. I was lucky enough to have excellent teachers who made math and science so fun!

What was it like to be a woman studying in your field?

Throughout my collegiate career at Penn State, I was outnumbered in the classroom, and even in my career now there are more men than women. At first, it can be intimidating, but it only encouraged me to work harder. College was a challenge for me, and the schoolwork was much more difficult than I expected. I was fortunate to find peers and study groups that supported one another to achieve a common goal, graduate!

Do you think people have any misconceptions about what it’s like to be a scientist or about the field itself?

A misconception that I had was that a job would only consist of synthesizing small molecules in a lab. What I love about my job is that I get to be a part of the innovation from the very beginning stages such as synthesizing a latex, formulating a coating, scaling it up and seeing it come to life through commercialization. I certainly didn’t see a chemistry degree taking me to making coatings for buildings to increase durability and energy efficiency. It’s a very rewarding experience to see your innovations being used by a customer!

Do you have a network of people to reach out to discuss your work?

In my career now we have many different networks of people to reach out to such as the Women’s Innovation Network. This network allows us to share experiences, find mentors and seek professional development. It is inspiring to see so many amazing women excelling in their career!

How is your company bringing innovation to the forefront?

Dow is undergoing a transformation to become a leading specialty chemical and materials company driven by innovation. Our innovation is driven by managing our portfolio to maximize return on our innovation efforts, being efficient and productive through the use of state of the art tools (like high-throughput experimentation) and collaboration with customer and innovators around the world. LIQUIDARMOR was featured at the China Clean Energy Research Center Building Energy Efficiency consortium (CERC-BEE). The CERC-BEE program has been an awesome collaboration. Through it, we performed a trial in China using LIQUIDARMOR, eventually testing the air sealing performance of it on a building. Blower door testing showed that using LIQUIDARMOR accrued 10% in energy savings. We’re focused on making the product as sustainable as possible. Right now we’re working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which has determined energy savings of 33% from LIQUIDARMOR when you use it in conjunction with THERMAX™ wall system. We are customer focused, working collaboratively with customers to be involved in the design process to insure mutual success. One of my favorite aspects of my job is visiting contractors at worksites having them trial our products. We do this all throughout the innovation process to ensure the product meets their needs. The company’s performance, as measured by new product sales, awards, patents, and other metrics continue to show the importance of innovation.

To date, what project is your greatest success?

My greatest success is LIQUIDARMOR™ Flashing and Sealant. LIQUIDARMOR was nominated for three R&D 100 Awards in 2015 and won a Metal Architecture’s Readers’ Choice Award in 2016. In 2016 we also won a GOLD Edison Award for LIQUIDARMOR. Winning a GOLD Edison Award is my greatest achievement!

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Mellissa Hopkins

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