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Dow: Building Innovative Research Through Relationships

There are innovative people at Dow. They know how to do relationships.”

Tobin Marks
Northwestern Professor of Materials Science and Engineering

The Dow Chemical Company (Dow) began its Northwestern University partnership with a shared value in mind–create global social impact by fusing university-industry talents and company resources at the intersection of innovation, citizenship, and sustainability. More than 30 years later, Dow and Northwestern remain partners in developing solutions and sharing expertise to solve some of society’s most pressing challenges and build sustainable communities.

Headquartered in Midland, Michigan, Dow is one of Northwestern’s long-standing industry partners, sponsoring many advanced research projects with Northwestern scientists that have led to breakthroughs in specialty chemicals, advanced materials, AgroSciences, and plastics. For example, a long-standing collaboration with Dow and Northwestern researchers led by Tobin Marks, Vladimir N. Ipatieff Professor of Catalytic Chemistry and Northwestern Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, resulted in a ground-breaking $100 billion polyolefins process to synthesize plastics. Marks estimates that these research findings have enabled the production of around 30 billion kilograms of more durable, recyclable, and sustainable plastics. 

Dow scientists and Marks’ research teams have worked together for more than three decades, spending recent years innovating catalyst structures. According to Marks, companies like Dow are ideal research partners because of their openness to brainstorming and their willingness to participate in two-way feedback with their university colleagues. “The best corporate scientists are open to the iterative process,” Marks explained. The Dow-Northwestern partnership provides opportunities for faculty with novel ideas to build relationships with company scientists in a variety of ways, including the sharing of resources and visits to each other’s workspaces to develop synergy through collaboration.

While this collaborative approach to university-industry engagement has led to numerous research projects between Dow scientists and Northwestern faculty throughout the years, it also creates a unique recruitment opportunity for Northwestern students. For example, Dow hosts monthly conference calls with research teams working on projects with the company and invites Northwestern students to visit their various job sites. Through these various touchpoints, Dow scientists become familiar with Northwestern students’ research skills, and students develop a deeper understanding of Dow’s commitment to the research as well as its corporate values. Many Northwestern alumni who have been involved in research with Dow during their time at the University have chosen to work for Dow.

The Dow partnership with Northwestern has inspired student safety initiatives, as well. A group of Northwestern University students was motivated to start the Research Safety Student Initiative (RSSI) after visiting the Dow Lab Safety Academy. In conjunction with the Office for Research Safety, the volunteer student initiative aims to encourage university-wide commitment to lab safety by providing education, resources, and training. The RSSI carries out projects that range from voluntary lab walk-throughs that identify the safest research groups to ice cream socials where students can discuss safety topics with experts.

More information about Dow can be found on the company website.

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