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Empty Eastman Laboratory.

Lab Partners: Eastman, UT Share History of Success

Industry partners are one of the best allies a college of engineering can have. They can help ensure students are working on projects with impactful relevance to the real world, while also providing faculty opportunities to stay abreast of the latest trends and needs. They can also transform lab spaces, classrooms, and the campus itself.

Now celebrating its 100th anniversary, Eastman has grown to become a Fortune 500 company, one of East Tennessee’s largest employers, and a key partner and collaborator with UT, the Tickle College of Engineering, and CBE.

The last decade alone has brought many successful ventures between Eastman and the department, impacting faculty, students, and spaces on campus.

Eastman Comes to Campus

Since 2015, UT has been a proud member of the Eastman Innovation Network. The partnership is focused on conducting collaborative research in multiple scientific disciplines, especially in the neutron science and additive manufacturing fields in which UT is recognized worldwide for its expertise. Now in 2020, Eastman is set to expand the partnership by establishing an on-campus presence.

Eastman’s External Innovation Manager and Computational Chemist Brendan Abolins is moving into a space off Chapman Drive on the campus of the Institute of Agriculture, where he will help coordinate current efforts related to advanced materials, the Center for Renewable Carbon, and research at Cherokee Farm, as well as new initiatives.

“Eastman utilizes university partnerships to inform and accelerate our progress in strategic areas through open innovation and collaboration with faculty and students,” said Eastman’s Global External Innovation Manager Dawn Mason. “We are very excited to expand our relationship with the University of Tennessee by occupying a space on campus that will strengthen the work and mutually beneficial connections between the university and Eastman. Brendan will serve as our consistent presence on campus, spending time with faculty and students in a variety of ways.”

It’s just the most recent mutually-beneficial development in a relationship built off such arrangements; one poised to thrive for years to come.

Bolstering Faculty, Research

CBE Prados Professor Gila Stein and Ferguson Faculty Fellow Cong Trinh also are working closely with Eastman.

Stein is heading a team that includes CBE Associate Professor Manolis Doxastakis and Department of Chemistry Associate Professor Brian Long and is focused on developing new ways of producing polymers, while Trinh is working on making the production of chemical building blocks more sustainable and economical.

This collaborative work will allow them to be involved in interesting research while also helping their graduate students prepare for careers through work on real-world engineering problems, all while helping Eastman solve their particular needs.

Both projects have the potential to make a major impact in some of the fields where Eastman is an industry and thought leader, further highlighting how university research programs can align with corporate partners for the benefit of not only faculty and students, but society as a whole.

“This is a shining example of what is possible through corporate-college partnerships, said CBE Department Head Bamin Khomami. “The importance of having impactful access to projects in a way that helps faculty test and expand their knowledge, gives students the opportunity to learn in a hands-on way that cements what they’ve learned in the classroom, and benefits Eastman at the same time is something that can’t be overstated.”

Transformed Spaces

Perhaps the most permanent, concrete example of the impact Eastman has had on UT was the complete overhaul of a pair of spaces within the Nathan W. Dougherty Engineering Building in 2015. The Eastman Unit Operations Laboratory was borne out of the remnants of a well-worn lab space on the ground floor of the building.

Eastman helped give the space new life while at the same time providing a mock-up version of an industrial lab, where students can run any number of experiments of importance to chemical and biomolecular engineering.

Students work in the Eastman Laboratory.

Students who spend time working in the lab gain the kind of hands-on experience of taking raw materials and turning them into the desired final product, which, in turn, gives companies like Eastman a pool of potential recruits who have gone through the production process in a practical, not just theoretical, way.

“Being able to provide students this sort of experience not only enhances their educational breadth and experience, it also gives them an advantage when trying to find employment after graduation,” said Khomami.

In addition to the lab space, Eastman helped fund the creation of a new student-focused room within Dougherty to provide places for study and relaxation between classes.