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Debbie Schneiderman

Science and Technology Award 2016: Americas

On 16 November 2016, Debbie Schneiderman received the DSM Science &Technology Award at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Conference in San Francisco. The award was in recognition of her Ph.D. research. Specifically, Debbie’s research was aimed at answering the following question: How can polymer scientists design and create new environmentally friendly (i.e., renewable, degradable, and chemically recyclable) plastics, rubbers, and foams that can perform similarly to the suite of non-degradable petrochemical polymers used today?
Finalists (l to r) Jouha Min, Deborah Schneiderman (Winner), Jacob Weidman & Jeffery Lopez

Early interest in science

I grew up on a farm and was always curious about how things worked. My siblings and I would help my father fix machinery. We would also build things for fun, take motors apart, and sometimes even put them back together again. My high school chemistry and physics teacher had a big influence on me, channeling that curiosity towards an interest in science.

After high school, I went on to study Chemistry and Biology at the University of Minnesota, Morris. There, I had the opportunity to work in a research lab for the first time, and found that I really liked it. Taking simple chemical precursors and figuring out how to put them together in entirely new ways to make complex molecules with useful or interesting properties was (and still is) really amazing to me.”

Working on sustainable development

“Three big challenges that face our society are water, energy, and food. Encompassing all of these is the idea of sustainable development. How do we feed, clothe, and shelter a growing population while ensuring future generations will still have available the resources necessary to meet their own needs? Scientists, particularly chemists and chemical engineers, can and should be working on research to solve the many technical problems associated with sustainable development. However it’s also very important to get the general public to recognize why they should care about these issues that maybe don’t impact them personally on a day-to-day basis.

This is one reason I’m really passionate about teaching and science communication as well as research. I think that if scientists and engineers can explain why the research they are doing is necessary and important, it will help lead to political action. Ultimately both legislative and technical solutions are required to meet the future needs of our society. More broadly, I aspire to encourage others to think scientifically. Thinking critically, second-guessing, and checking sources are important skills for scientists. However, basically anyone can benefit from using the scientific method – and teaching others to do so can go a long way toward combating the phenomena of fake news and chemophobia.”