Meet 3M Mentor Jeffrey Emslander

by Kim Moldofsky, The Maker Mom

I recently had the chance to hold an email interview with Jeffrey Emslander, the 3M mentor to Hannah Herbst, AKA America's Top Young Scientist! Jeff has enjoyed a long, productive, and interesting career at 3M so far. It's clear he's not done just yet. In this two-part series I'm going to introduce you to his work and then follow-up next week with his thoughts on mentoring.

Quite a career at 3M

I read that you are a recognized expert in "polymeric film materials selection" with numerous patents to your name and that in your current role you seek to find "new and unique ways to process polymers" and uncover or create "cool new properties."  How does that play out in your day-to-day work?

I work with polymer films – plastic films to the lay person. I do this in two main ways: 1) by evaluating new materials for new uses and 2) processing existing materials in new ways to give them unique properties. 

It’s a lot of fun doing things that have not been done before. Almost all polymers (plastics) start out as pellets. We put them into equipment that melts them and forms them into plastic films that are all around us. Examples would be bread bags, liners for food packaging (cereal and crackers for example), garbage bags, etc. If you walk through a grocery store and look around, almost all of the food packaging is made this way – it’s all around us. 

My job is to work with existing materials and find new uses for them, and also to develop new ways to produce things differently. Examples of technologies and products I’ve developed are graphic films that are printed and applied to the sides of trucks, cars and buildings. People have done some pretty cool things with 3M films to make them look fun and eye catching.

Another of my developments is a part of reflective safety film used in construction zones to prevent accidents. A coworker of mine developed a new way to make the material that is more flexible. As a result, if someone runs a car into the cones or barrels they are not destroyed.

I developed a new component of this safety film that allows it to stay flexible and provides additional protection. The next time you drive by road construction and see barrels and cones set up, there is a good chance you are seeing some of my work!

My job is rewarding. It’s great to know that I have worked on products that are making lives better for people.

I regularly consult with other scientists, researchers and marketers at 3M and have developed new films for uses ranging from components of automobiles, diapers, building materials and medical/surgical applications.

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in science? 

I always loved science and loved to figure out how things worked. I grew up on a dairy farm so we had a lot of different types of equipment around. That was an influence too. When I was in elementary school I checked out all the library books that had chemistry and science experiments you could do at home. 

When I got into high school I still loved the science classes –it was fun to learn new things and it helped me understand how things work and why we do some of the things we do – because science is all around us.

One day my chemistry and physics teacher (it was a small school) stopped me in the hallway and suggested I investigate engineering after I graduated high school. At the time I didn’t know any engineers or scientists. I didn’t even know what they did. But after looking into it I thought it sounded like something I would really enjoy – I could do science stuff everyday and get paid! 

My teacher was a big influence in pursuing a career in science. So were my parents. They never discouraged me even though they didn’t understand some of the things I was doing and they just let me continue doing them. And of course I was using all the cool things available to a kid on a dairy farm like welders, acetylene torches, and tools.

Stay tuned to learn more about how Jeff connects with colleagues and students through mentoring.