Public Release: 

Dearborn, Mich., researchers receive award for improving automobile plastics

American Chemical Society

Chemical engineers Ellen Lee, Ph.D., and Deborah Mielewski, Ph.D., of Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Mich., will be honored June 28 by the world's largest scientific society for developing a new process for making stronger, lighter plastics for automobiles. They will receive one of two 2002 Industrial Innovation Awards at the American Chemical Society's Central regional meeting in Ypsilanti, Mich.

"Multidisciplinary teams will be the main force driving the development of the products, materials and technologies that advance civilization in the 21st century," said Eli Pearce, president of the American Chemical Society. "Individual members of the team share knowledge to achieve a common goal, achieving more than each could alone. Thus, the team becomes a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts."

Plastic components for cars and trucks have traditionally been made with substances like talc or glass, which add strength and are relatively lightweight. To meet consumers' increased demands for greater fuel efficiency and safety, however, automobile manufacturers have been working on a new class of materials, called nanocomposites, that use molecule-size mineral fillers such as clay for reinforcement instead of glass or talc.

Lee and Mielewski have discovered and developed a new, inexpensive process that uses ultrasonic energy to evenly distribute the silicate clay particles throughout the plastic's polymer matrix. This new generation of automobile plastics is stronger and lighter, looks better, and gives manufacturers more design flexibility.

The American Chemical Society's Industrial Innovation Awards recognize individuals and teams whose discoveries and inventions contribute to the commercial success of their companies and enhance our quality of life.

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Ellen C. Lee, Ph.D., is a technical specialist for the plastics research group at Ford Motor Company's Scientific Research Laboratory. She received a B.S. in chemical engineering from Northwestern University in 1993 and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1998. She resides in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Deborah F. Mielewski, Ph.D., is a technical specialist and team leader for the plastics research group at Ford Motor Company's Scientific Research Laboratory. She received a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 1986, 1993 and 1998. She resides in Ann Arbor, Mich.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The winners will present 20-minute talks about their work on Friday, June 28 at 3:30 p.m. If you would like to attend the awards banquet or presentation, please contact the person listed above.

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