The story of the passionate Lizz Michael-Sapia
This is the story of the passionate Lizz Michael-Sapia, an Applications Scientist at Eastman Chemical Company. Where did Lizz’s passion and enthusiasm for science come from? As a kid, Lizz followed a military moving schedule, and she and her family would move every two or three years to a different place. Although that might come with some disadvantages, the act of moving various times allowed Lizz to think broadly, see different parts of the world, acknowledge all the people living in it and appreciate the critical role played by the environment in our existence. Besides caring about the environment, Lizz also loved problem-solving, and wanted to make a difference: “I knew I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, and like everybody, I wanted to do something that would be fun, something I was passionate about, and something that would be really different and exciting every day.” There could not have been a better choice than science as Lizz’s career path!
At Eastman, Lizz is serving as the technical leader for a team of thirty scientists, engineers, and technical service representatives focused on the development of thermoplastic, biodegradable, and compostable polymer solutions. Plastic waste is a huge problem currently faced by our society. Fortunately, some countries, states, and cities have already started to ban their single use plastics. Although there are some sustainable alternatives to single use plastics (e.g. use of reusable bags), some of these materials cannot be fully reduced, reused, or recycled. Lizz and her team are currently working, developing, creating, and inventing single use plastics that are compostable or biodegrade in the environment!
The amazing process of inventing with passion
You might be thinking right now why did Lizz and her team at Eastman decide to work with this specific subject. Why plastics? Why not any other problem that the world is facing? (And let’s be honest, we have lots of problems going on right now!) Well, Lizz said that prioritizing is the biggest obstacle of the whole problem-solving process.
To explain the previous statement, let’s start from the beginning of the inventive process. Lizz and her team start with a general and ample perspective, thinking about all the problems of our world. Then it comes the hardest part, in Lizz’s opinion: coming from a broad mindset to focused thinking. What are the problems that need to be solved and prioritized now? What problems are impactful, but easy to tackle? On which problems should they spend and focus their time and energy first? After that, comes Lizz’s favorite part of the inventive process: creating new ways to solve that problem, thus translating her and her team’s solution and vision into a reality. “What are the problems that we are currently facing? How can I solve these problems? What can I do to fix it? And you start developing out the solutions to do that, and that is the really exciting and fun part.”
The role of green chemistry during the invention process
For Lizz, green chemistry is extremely necessary, and makes all the difference in promoting a healthy and sustainable future. Lizz and her team think about green chemistry from the very beginning, since they do not want to get halfway through their process development and discover that it needs the most toxic chemicals and it consumes crazy amounts of energy! “Green Chemistry is not an afterthought”. She highlights the importance of not only incorporating green ingredients in the formulation of new materials, but the importance of considering the end-of-life aspect of the material to be produced: What happens to your product after it is used? Can it be disposed in a sustainable way? For Lizz, during the invention of a new material, “The entire formulation has to be sustainable and green.”
"I knew I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, and like everybody, I wanted to do something that would be fun, something I was passionate about, and something that would be really different and exciting every day."
-Elizabeth Michael-Sapia, Ph.D.