Hard Facts and Soft Skills: A Lecture by Thomas Connelly

By Joe Yates
Elm Staff Writer

In Decker Theatre at Washington College, Dr. Thomas Connelly, Executive Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer of DuPont gave a lecture titled “Hard Facts and Soft Skills for the Innovator of Tomorrow.”

Dr. Connelly, began with an overview of DuPont’s history and the history of its products, and the profundity of chemistry’s application and use upon that company’s history.

After their humble beginnings, DuPont’s products “have been to the bottom of the ocean, to the tallest mountain, the north and south poles… Mars and Jupiter… in your homes, cars and kitchens,” said Connelly.

Connelly earned his PhD in Chemical Engineering at the University of Cambridge before joining DuPont in 1977. He described the necessaries of maintaining and growing a business that relies on pushing the boundaries of application for virtually all technical scientific fields.

He explained that a network of scientists is key to an effective business.

“Invention is what happens in the laboratory, innovation is what happens in the marketplace,” he said.

DuPont thinks that currently, there are several ‘Megatrends’ moving the market and driving the necessary innovations and inventions to keep pace with them. Those Megatrends consist of food production for a growing population, reducing a dependence on fossil fuels, producing things that meet the needs of the environment, and growing in emergent markets.
For food production, mainly Connelly walked the audience through how teams of scientists in Africa are working to produce genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) for the agricultural climate of the continent. They are working on things like biofortified sorgum, which is corn that can grow in hotter environments.

These kinds of advances are key to maintaining enough food for a growing population on the same amount of farmable land.
The next step would be to produce GMO rice for China or the Indian Sub-Continent to maintain food supplies in the same way.
Connelly then broke down what the current problems are with the move away from fossil fuels. As it stands, between production and distribution of energy, solar power is about twice as expensive as grid power, which is almost always coal-based.

To move past this, solar power needs to reach what he termed as ‘grid parity,’ a point at which solar power is equally accessible and profitable to use over the grid.

The point he stressed the most, however, was the fact that DuPont never stops researching. Through the recession’ of ‘09 and even during the Great Depression, DuPont has exhibited a continuing commitment to research.
“Innovation doesn’t stop for a market downturn” Connelly said.

Volume LXXXI Issue 16

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