Get outside your comfort zone.
It’s a phrase we hear often, and an idea that drives Dr. Joseph DeSimone in his day-to-day work. Dr. DeSimone, a recipient of the 2013 National Medal of Technology and Innovation, has always been a believer in the power of collaboration and learning from other people’s experiences, whether in academia, in industry, or as a mentor to students.
Growing up, Dr. DeSimone said he was always drawn to science. After falling in love with polymer science during his undergraduate studies, he moved on to Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech) to pursue his graduate studies – specifically because the institution was, as he described it, a “powerhouse in polymer science.”
It was there that Dr. DeSimone began to see the power of collaboration in science. Throughout the year, the polymer science department would host workshops through which industry scientists came to campus to learn about new developments in the field.
“I really liked the utilitarian aspects [of polymer science],” he said. “So I started making lots of connections to polymer scientists and engineers throughout industry.”
Despite having interviews with more than a dozen companies coming out of Virginia Tech, DeSimone decided to take a position as an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when he was just 25 years old. The university was building its polymer science department, and gave Dr. DeSimone a budget to get it off the ground.
“I walked into the chemistry department there and they really cherished what I was going to do, and it was legitimate,” he said. “I think the hallmark feature of the University of North Carolina is the ability to collaborate. The barriers to collaboration were low. In fact...you were pulled together.”