Emmett D. Crawford

Born: August 16, 1971 | Meridian, MS, US

Emmett D. Crawford was born in Meridian, Mississippi, but grew up in Laurinburg, North Carolina. Interested in space, Crawford decided to major in meteorology at North Carolina State University, but when he heard that chemical engineering was the hardest subject he switched majors, intrigued by the challenge. Crawford's professor, Richard Felder, said Crawford was the best problem solver he had ever seen, and Crawford managed an almost perfect record throughout college. For graduate school Crawford chose the University of Massachusetts at Amherst because their polymer science and engineering program was small and afforded personal attention. There he worked with Alan Lesser, a new professor, and published several papers on epoxy resins; from these publications he drew his dissertation. Wanting to use his PhD in industry, Crawford chose a job at Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, Tennessee. At Eastman TMCD (2,2,4,4-tetramethyl-1,3-cyclobutanediol) had been studied from a chemical perspective many times over the years, but Crawford brought his experience with materials science to studying it again and developed a new theory that produced a plastic combining durability with pliability, a theory that eventually was confirmed by small-scale testing. Supported by some of the management Crawford was able to bring what was given the name Tritan to commercial production. Crawford won the Society of Chemical Industry Gordon E. Moore Medal for developing Tritan. 

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0705
No. of pages: 84
Minutes: 229

Interview Sessions

David J. Caruso, Jody A. Roberts and Benjamin Gross
6 and 7 October 2011
Eastman Chemical Company Kingsport, Tennessee

Abstract of Interview

Emmett D. Crawford was born in Meridian, Mississippi, but grew up in Laurinburg, North Carolina. His father, a minister and director of admissions at St. Andrews Presbyterian College, and his mother, a teacher, divorced when Crawford was about ten, and he and his sister acquired new chores around the house. Crawford also had a paper route and then worked in photography and lithography when he was in high school. He found school mostly boring and loved to be outside. Interested in space, Crawford decided to major in meteorology at North Carolina State University, but when he heard that chemical engineering was the hardest subject he switched majors, intrigued by the challenge. Crawford's professor, Richard Felder, said Crawford was the best problem solver he had ever seen, and Crawford managed an almost perfect record throughout college. He had summer jobs at a peach farm and back at his old newspaper before he got his first job at Milliken Chemical Company, working mostly alone on counter-current extraction and finding this his first experience of chemical engineering in action. For graduate school Crawford chose the University of Massachusetts at Amherst because their polymer science and engineering program was small and afforded personal attention. There he worked with Alan Lesser, a new professor, and published several papers on epoxy resins; from these publications he drew his dissertation. Wanting to use his PhD in industry, Crawford chose a job at Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport, Tennessee; he found the company well-regarded, the people congenial, and the location close to his own family. He began work on the mechanical behavior of plastics, trying, as he puts it, to come up with a tear-resistant pretzel bag. At Eastman TMCD (2,2,4,4-tetramethyl-1,3-cyclobutanediol) had been studied from a chemical perspective many times over the years, but Crawford brought his experience with materials science to studying it again and developed a new theory that produced a plastic combining durability with pliability, a theory that eventually was confirmed by small-scale testing. Supported by some of the management Crawford was able to bring what was given the name Tritan to commercial production. Crawford won the Society of Chemical Industry Gordon E. Moore Medal for developing Tritan. Since the launch of Tritan, Crawford has had to work on coloring problems and possible concerns about safety. He says he is still a data-driven scientist, but he is now mentoring new hires at Eastman. In addition, Crawford and his wife have had two children, and he has been fighting cancer. He works at balancing his life at work with his life at home and hopes to find time again to photograph waterfalls. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1993 North Carolina State University at Raleigh BS Chemical Engineering
1999 University of Massachusetts PhD Polymer Science

Professional Experience

Milliken Chemical Company

1993 to 1994
Chemical Engineering Intern

Eastman Chemical

1999 to 2004
Research Scientist, Applications Research & Development
2004 to 2012
Research Scientist, Polymers Research Laboratory

Honors

Year(s) Award
1996

Society of Plastics Engineers, Polymer Modification and Additives Award

2008

Eastman Chemical Company, Chairman's Recognition Award

2010

Society of Chemical Industry, Gordon E. Moore Medal

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Born in Meridian, Mississippi; grew up in Laurinburg, North Carolina. Family background. Parents' employment. Importance of education. Good at math. Parents' divorce and its consequences. Poverty in area, quality of school. Boredom in high school.

College Years
17

Reasons for going to college. Chose North Carolina State University, majoring in meteorology. Switched to chemical engineering as "hardest" subject. Richard Felder. Being good at problem solving. Summer jobs. Summer at Washington University in St. Louis in Ron Sparks' lab. Nine months at Milliken Chemical Company's Cypress plant inspired interest in polymers.

Graduate School Years
30

Discovered polymers. Chose University of Massachusetts at Amherst for graduate school because of its polymer science and engineering program. Personal attention, small program. Advisor Scott Barton at first; then Alan Lesser. Setting up Lesser's lab. Adapting to Massachusetts. Publications on epoxy resins; dissertation from publications. Camaraderie among lab mates. Typical day. Biking and basketball. Injury and surgery. Learning science writing.

Beginning at Eastman Chemical Company
48

Eastman near family; well-respected company; nice people. Went into industry instead of academia. Still likes outdoors; takes pictures of waterfalls. Working on mechanical behavior of plastic, like pretzel bags and diaper films. Polycarbonates and thermal stability issues yielding insight eventually leading to Tritan. Moving from polyethylene to polyester. David Porter. History of TMCD (2,2,4,4-tetramethyl-1,3-cyclobutanediol).

Developing Years at Eastman
55

Compact discs' problems; using TMCD to alleviate. John Dombroski. Conflict between pliability and durability. Benjamin Barton. Analysis of TMCD previously based on chemistry; now on Crawford's materials science experience. Demonstrating proof of concept. Chris Killian. Used small-scale testing to prove theory. Inherent viscosity vs. melt viscosity. Merging old capabilities with new approaches. Small effort at first; much analysis. Toughness data convincing to Killian and Robert Seymour, who had Teas plant make material for more testing and analysis. Finally pilot plant line. Serious but confidential technical problems. Worked very hard; developed cancer at same time. Rapid change to success and production. Marriage. Cancer treatment. Children.

Success of Tritan
72

Carcinogen problems arising in PAN; succeeded by PET; BPA. Testing done by US Food and Drug Administration and other labs. Coloring problems fixed in less than a year. Max Weaver. Fragmented market; working with customers. Winning Moore Medal; liked recognition from other scientists. Much of his work still confidential. Taking new hires under his wing; being "help desk. " Balancing various aspects of his life. Still sees self as data-driven scientist.

Index
82

About the Interviewer

David J. Caruso

David J. Caruso earned a BA in the history of science, medicine, and technology from Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and a PhD in science and technology studies from Cornell University in 2008. Caruso is the director of the Center for Oral History at the Science History Institute, president of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and editor for the Oral History Review. In addition to overseeing all oral history research at the Science History Institute, he also holds an annual training institute that focuses on conducting interviews with scientists and engineers, he consults on various oral history projects, like at the San Diego Technology Archives, and is adjunct faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching courses on the history of military medicine and technology and on oral history.  His current research interests are the discipline formation of biomedical science in 20th-century America and the organizational structures that have contributed to such formation.

Jody A. Roberts

Jody A. Roberts is the Director of the Institute for Research at the Science History Institute. He received his PhD and MS in Science and Technology Studies from Virginia Tech and holds a BS in chemistry from Saint Vincent College. His research focuses on the intersections of regulation, innovation, environmental issues, and emerging technologies within the chemical sciences.

Benjamin Gross

Benjamin Gross studies the history of corporate science and the American consumer electronics industry. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Research, where he oversees a variety of projects related to material innovation. He also serves as curator of the Sarnoff Collection at The College of New Jersey and oversaw the development of “Innovations That Changed the World,” an exhibition on RCA’s contributions to the history of electronics. Dr. Gross earned a PhD in the history of science from Princeton University and recently completed a book manuscript on RCA and the creation of the first liquid crystal displays.