Esther S. Takeuchi

Born: September 8, 1953 | Kansas City, MO, US

Esther Takeuchi grew up in Akron, Ohio. She majored in history and chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was often the lone woman in her classes. Takeuchi completed her PhD in Harold Shechter’s lab at the Ohio State University. Takeuchi chose industry over academia, taking a job at Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), working on catalysis. She did postdoctoral work at the University of North Carolina. Takeuchi accepted a position as senior chemist at Greatbatch, Inc., rediscovering the use of silver vanadium oxide (SVO) in oil-drilling batteries and adapted the chemistry for an implantable cardiac defibrillator. During her twenty-three years at Greatbatch, Takeuchi rose up in management positions, culminating in Chief Scientist at the Center for Excellence. As the Greatbatch Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at SUNY Buffalo, Takeuchi was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Takeuchi is currently the Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Materials Science and Engineering in a joint appointment with Brookhaven National Laboratory and SUNY Stonybrook.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0885
No. of pages: 114
Minutes: 299

Interview Sessions

David J. Caruso and Matthew N. Eisler
27 April and 14 September 2012
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York The State University of New York at Stony Brook

Abstract of Interview

Esther Takeuchi grew up in Akron, Ohio, the youngest of three children. After escaping Soviet Latvia, her father became an electrical engineer for Goodyear Aerospace and her mother a home health worker who also had an economics degree. From an early age, Takeuchi enjoyed science and math. She majored in history and chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was often the lone woman in her classes.

Takeuchi completed her PhD in Harold Shechter’s lab at the Ohio State University. She also met her future husband, an inorganic chemist, in a German class at Ohio State. Preferring to “make things rather than measure them,” Takeuchi chose industry over academia, taking a job at Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), working on catalysis. She did postdoctoral work at the University of North Carolina, and, when her husband took a job at SUNY Buffalo, she did another postdoc at Buffalo. Still interested in a career in industry, Takeuchi accepted a position as senior chemist at Greatbatch, Inc., a developer of implantable medical devices. She rediscovered the use of silver vanadium oxide (SVO) in oil-drilling batteries and adapted the chemistry for an implantable cardiac defibrillator. During her twenty-three years at Greatbatch, Takeuchi rose up in management positions, culminating in Chief Scientist at the Center for Excellence. From there she went to SUNY Buffalo, becoming Greatbatch Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Chemistry. While there, she was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Takeuchi’s interest in battery development extended into energy storage, so she moved to SUNY Stony Brook, where she is the Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Materials Science and Engineering in a joint appointment with Brookhaven National Laboratory, to work on large projects with large groups.

Takeuchi has won numerous awards and holds numerous patents. She has published articles and given presentations at Electrochemical Society meetings. Her experience in both industry and academia has given her an unusually broad perspective into the practice of chemistry.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1975 University of Pennsylvania BA Chemistry and History
1981 Ohio State University PhD Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

University of Pennsylvania

1975 to 1976
Research Assistant

Union Carbide Corporation

1981 to 1982
Senior Research Chemist, Corporate Research Center

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

1982 to 1983
Postdoctoral Research Associate

The State University of New York, Buffalo

1983 to 1984
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Electrochemistry
2007 to 2010
Greatbatch Professor, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Chemistry; Co-Director of NYSTAR Center for Advanced Technology in Bioinformatics and Biomedicine
2010 to 2012
SUNY Distinguished Professor

Wilson Greatbatch, Inc.

1984 to 1986
Senior Chemist
1986 to 1990
Research and Development Group Manager
1990 to 1991
Research and Development Associate Director
1991 to 1999
Director of Electrochemical Research
1999 to 2006
Executive Director, Battery Research & Development and Center of Excellence
2006 to 2007
Chief Scientist, Center of Excellence

State University of New York at Stony Brook

2012 to 2017
Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Materials Science and Engineering

Brookhaven National Laboratory

2012 to 2017
Chief Scientist, Energy Sciences Directorate

Honors

Year(s) Award
1990

Woman of the Year, Science category, Presented by Community Advisory Council, State University of New York at Buffalo

1995

Battery Division Technology Award, Electrochemical Society

1997

Visonary of the Year, Wilson Greatbatch Inc.

1998

68th Jacob F. Schoellkopf Medal, Western New York Section of the American Chemical Society

1998

Inducted into the Western New York Women's Hall of Fame

1999

Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering

2000

Inventor of the Year Award, Physical Sciences, 1st and 3rd place recipient, presented by The Technical Societies Council of the Niagara  Frontier and The Niagara Frontier Intellectual Property Law  Association

2002

YWCA Executive Award Nominee

2002 to 2003

Buffalo Niagra ATHENA Award Nominee

2003

Woman of Distinction Award, Buffalo Branch of the American Association of University Women 

2003

Achievement in Health Care Award, D'Youville College

2004

Pioneers of Science Award, Hauptman-Woodard Medical Research Institute

2004

Elected into the National Academy of Engineering

2005

Inventor of the Year Award, Physical Sciences, 3rd place recipient, Presented by The Technical Societies Council of the Niagara Frontier and The Niagara Frontier Intellectual Property Law Association

2006

Lincoln Gries Distinguished Alumni Award, Old Trail School

2007

Life Time Achievement Award, The Technical Societies Council of the Niagara Frontier and The Niagara Frontier Intellectual Property Law

2008

Astellas USA Foundation Award, Administered by the American Chemical Society on behalf of the Astellas Foundation

2009

National Medal of Technology and Innovation

2010

Chancellor Charles P. Norton Medal, State University of New York at Buffalo

2011

National Inventors Hall of Fame

2013

E.V. Murphree Award in Industrial and Engineering Chemisty, American Cancer Society

2013

Charter Member, National Academy of Innovation 

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Growing up in Akron, Ohio, one of three children. Father electrical engineer at Goodyear Aerospace; mother home health worker with economics degree. Parents’ escape from Latvia into displaced persons’ camp. Parents’ life in Latvia. Childhood experiments of taking things apart. Fondness for science and math. High school experience and impact.

College Years
22

Attends University of Pennsylvania’s College for Women. Double major in history and chemistry. Chemistry culture on campus. Parents supportive. Uninterested in politics. Likes organic and inorganic chemistry. Wants to make things, not just measure them. Working on conductive polymers in Alan MacDiarmid’s lab. Ohio State University for grad school. Harold Shechter’s lab culture and management. Synthesis and characterization of compounds to figure out what they were; lots of instruments. Industry career over academia. Meets husband in German class.

Moving On
46

On-campus interview with Union Carbide Corporation. Job in catalysis of ethylene and propylene glycol. Postdoc in electrochemistry at University of North Carolina with Royce Murray; modifying electrode surfaces; two publications. Comparison of academia and UCC. Solving the two-body problem:  husband’s position at State University of New York at Buffalo, one-year postdoc for her at Buffalo.

Greatbatch, Inc.
51

Wants to work on definable product in industry, accepts senior chemist position at Greatbatch, Inc. Electrochemistry emerging as important field. Beginning of implantable medical device development; first project trying to increase life of battery in implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD). Rediscovering silver vanadium oxide (SVO), previously used in oil-drilling batteries. First human implant within three years. Regulations, manufacture, marketing. Interdisciplinary nature of medical battery research. Patent for battery safety. New medical areas for batteries.

Recap of Early Career
62

Importance to industry of variability and spread in data. Life in West Virginia; move to University of North Carolina. Publication with Janet Osteryoung. Job offers. Industry requires knowing what works rather than why. Complications involved in batteries used in people. Working with manufacturers. Original goal to increase ICD battery life to about five years; later goals to increase power and decrease size. Moving to management, away from science. Develops five battery systems plus hybrids. Competition increasing, need for more PhDs.

Director of Electrochemical Research
83

Batteries closely linked to their application. Greatbatch diversifying into industrial applications. Strategic planning:  working with manufacturers and clinicians; navigating Food and Drug Administration rules and regulations. Growth of staff and facilities. Office setup. Going public:  tighter scrutiny, control, greater efficiency. Becoming more manufacturer than technical company. Expansion to Boston and California. Traveling. Combining companies. Balancing outside life with work.

Chief Scientist for Center of Excellence
94

More strategizing for growth, not just in batteries or just in medical applications; included assessment and marketing. Liked strategic planning but missed science; company going in different direction. Academic positions afford more freedom for creativity.

Back to Academia
98

Greatbatch Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Chemistry at State University of New York Buffalo. Setting up lab, recruiting students and funding. Wants to apply medical battery experience to understanding life-limiting processes of batteries. Failure predictability critical in medical batteries. Technical evolution. Batteries crucial for transport, energy provision. Husband’s helpful advice. Amy Marschilak lab manager. National Medal of Technology and Innovation. Joint appointment at SUNY Stony Brook and Brookhaven National Laboratory; larger projects and larger groups. Urgent and increasing need to develop energy storage. Publications at Greatbatch; presentations at Electrochemical Society. Importance of patents.

Some Final Thoughts
107

Women in science offer diversity of approach, perspective. Need for mentors for all scientists. Chemistry environment too macho. Tenure system discouraging to young scientists. Having children.

Index
113

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.

Matthew N. Eisler

Matthew N. Eisler was a 2004–2005 Ullyot Scholar at CHF’s Beckman Center.