Ronald McKinney, 2015 Lavoisier Medalist
Leading Organometallic Chemist, Innovative Problem Solver
If you’ve ever used a toothbrush, walked across a carpet or gone fishing, you’ve probably enjoyed the results of Ron McKinney’s research efforts in support of nylon intermediates. "I feel fortunate that I got to do what I love,' says McKinney, whose love of chemistry propelled him towards a rewarding four-decade career at DuPont.
His impressive tenure has culminated in high recognition as he is one of two colleagues honored with the 2015 Lavoisier Medal, celebrating DuPont scientists and engineers whose outstanding technical achievements have resulted in significant business impact and enduring scientific value. Like the 18th century French scientist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier – who was once headed for a legal career – McKinney initially thought his career track would be engineering. But after taking a chemistry class for the first time at liberal arts school Anderson University, McKinney says he was hooked: "I found I really loved chemistry, and I made it my major. That's what really launched my career''.
Following Anderson, a PhD from UCLA and postdoctoral work at Great Britain's University of Bristol, McKinney began working in research at DuPont's Experimental Station in Wilmington, Del. Much of his process chemistry work there was concentrated on nylon, the DuPont invention that has become ubiquitous in consumer goods and industrial applications. His research efforts on nylon intermediates impacted everything from toothbrushes to carpets, while his work on generation processes – including the design of a new class of tin co-catalysts for nylon manufacture – lead to a greater understanding of the process.
McKinney also led projects on sustainable materials that helped reduce reliance on petroleum-based products by creating intermediates from biomass feedstocks. He oversaw the development of catalytic tools to modify carbohydrates as a renewable source for polymer intermediates; and he led a project to develop low-cost technologies to capture carbon dioxide from coal-based power plants.
"I'm very honored and humbled at being selected for the Lavoisier,'' he said. “I think one of the reasons was the big part of my career spent mentoring colleagues and younger people. I'm proud that my efforts helped people grow into their potential. I always enjoyed gathering people, giving them a push in the right direction and seeing all the good things come out a number of times in my career."
Now retired, McKinney runs his own business. Consulting work "helps keep me sort of sharp,'' he noted. He also enjoys swimming and hiking in his newfound free time.