is a well-respected educator in North Carolina and around the world.
He is a professor of chemistry at the UNC-Chapel Hill, and a chemical engineering professor at N.C. State University as well as a prominent scientist and inventor. Recently, he received the prestigious Lemelson Prize for invention and holds more than 115 patents.
DeSimone is distinguished for his work combining polymer chemistry and technology into innovative products for drug delivery and green manufacturing.
An entrepreneur who has launched several companies, he also understands that communication is an important part of being a scientist. When it comes to young students, he tries to be as accommodating as his schedule allows; making concentrated efforts to help bridge the gap between science and society.
LTW recently talked with DeSimone about those efforts and the importance of building partnerships between business and education.
LTW: In March, you were the keynote speaker for the North Carolina Science Academy’s annual meeting. What was your motivation to accept the invitation to speak to the students?
DESIMONE: I try not to turn down invitations. I think communication is an important part to being a scientist. I especially don’t turn down invitations for students of this age group. I think the opportunities for steering and encouraging students to choose scientific and engineering careers are an important topic. I think too many people think about scientists in narrow terms. I often think scientists themselves think of themselves in narrow terms. There are so many opportunities to contribute to society as a scientist and engineer. We have enough issues and problems in our society. Whether it’s the environment or health care or clean water, there are so many opportunities to improve the health and well being of society. I try to present examples and give students a perspective that they can do science and make a difference.
During your presentation you spoke a lot about the characteristics that you look for in people as you start to assemble a team. What are some of those key points and how can those relate to business?
I think first and foremost is recognizing that it takes a team. It takes a village; a group of very diverse people to create the most effective teams. I spend a lot of time putting together teams that complement one another so that we have the right perspectives in all different dimensions – putting together people who like to be in teams; those willing to make an effort to be part of a team. It’s not easy to be part of a team. It’s easy to be by yourself doing your own thing. Being part of a team takes additional commitment, accountability, and understanding of roles and responsibilities.
So, diversity is one key to team building, right? What else?
I try to pick a diverse group that understands the range of approaches we’re taking. I often try to throw someone in the mix from a very different perspective, such that we can have a different, way out-of-the-box perspective. I like having people who are willing to take risks, willing to be accountable. I talk about getting jumpers on our team. Taking a creative leap takes people capable of making jumps and willing to take risks; people who are willing to fail. It’s easy not to fail-too easy. I want people to do hard things and willing to fail. You have to provide a network to let them know that you understand what you’re about to try has a low probability of success. That’s what we want to work on-those hard themes. Those are the kind of people and characteristics I try to put on my teams.
What do you think is the best way to engage education and other sectors?
The problems we are dealing with are not going to be solved over night. It’s going to take a sustained effort; longevity of a continuous pipeline of people who are savvy in science and engineering and technology and math and biology. Our business leaders understand the importance of these topics in our educational system for a vibrant and thriving North Carolina. The world is getting increasingly competitive. It’s easy to tap people from all over the world. We have to be competitive. Our strength is our diversity and being able to harness that and give a strong educational background is important for North Carolina.
Do you think that will work?
If we play our cards right, North Carolina can take over a commanding position nationally for science and technology and the subsequent economic development that comes from those fields. We’ve got to be investing further in these areas. We have the opportunity. We’ve been blessed with legislators who are supporting our universities and education. We have great infrastructure and buildings. There has been a big investment on construction. Now is the time to put the pedal to the metal and really push and accelerate us past the national competition.
Get the latest news alerts: at Twitter.