Nick Powley works with his colleagues to help distill ideas into hypotheses that can be tested as part of the Infection Prevention Discovery Group at 3M. After hours, he can’t shake that drive to invent – so he creates opportunities for inventors from all over the world to bring their ideas to life in the machine shop and laboratory he built in his garage.
That’s one example of how the spirit of invention is not only core to the corporate culture of 3M; it permeates all aspects of our scientists’ lives. It’s not uncommon for inventors here to follow a workday spent creating innovative solutions for their customers worldwide, by heading home only to devote their evening to developing inventions of their own in the labs they’ve built in their garages and basements.
Self-directed discovery, a culture of collaboration and the freedom to explore are some of the guiding principles set forth by William L. McKnight more than 75 years ago … principles that continue to influence our inventors today.
For Tim Hebrink, inexhaustible drive is directed toward his passion for energy. Tim lived completely “off the grid” for 12 years, and for six months out of each of those years he produced way more renewable energy than he could use. So the 3M scientist connected back to the grid to sell that surplus energy to the utility company. He generates about 80 percent of his home’s energy with solar power, around 15 percent with wind, and the remainder with a gas-powered electric generator. Tim has never lost power.
For more than a decade, both at his job and on his own, Tim has been testing films for their ability to increase the energy output of solar panels and making them more energy efficient. The data he collects at home on the weekends has been used in more than five patent applications.
When we first featured Jayshree Seth in 2015 about her role as a scientist and mentor at 3M, she held 51 patents for a variety of innovations, including several that help diapers stay put on wiggly babies. Now, that count has been bumped up to 58, and she’s showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, she’s passing that passion along to others in her field.
Joe Oxman has also been prolific, with his name on nearly 100 3M patents. After 34 years as a 3M scientist, Joe’s sense of curiosity is still his driving force. Today, he is considered an expert in photocurable systems, nanotechnology, glass ionomer materials and hard-tissue adhesives. He played a key role in revolutionizing the dental industry by improving light-activated, tooth-colored restorative filling materials that are replacing conventional metal fillings.
You’re more likely to come across some of Sue Butzer’s many inventions in the course of your day. She’s currently focused on people who work in today’s smaller, more open-environment, office space – what she calls the “office cockpit.” As she works to improve their workday and workspace, she always has an eye on the problems they face.
But her first 3M patent solved a problem in the kitchen. She took on the assignment to find the best way to clean pans without scratching the non-stick coating, and invented the Scotch-Brite Non-Scratch Scrub Sponge.
Ying-Yuh Lu is a man who loves pressure-sensitive adhesives. Traditionally, adhesives are manufactured from petroleum, but a new plant-based monomer, developed by one of 3M’s corporate labs, was an exciting discovery. He jumped on the chance to develop a new adhesive for a product that is dear to him.
These scientists are all quick to point out that their success is closely tied to collaboration. “All but one of my patents has a co-inventor on it,” says Joe Oxman. “It’s all about building on ideas – taking the seed of an idea and building on the idea is enhanced by involving others. That is part of 3M’s approach to problem solving.” Learn more about 3M’s commitment to invention.