St. Paul chemist receives award for developing reflective films inspired by nature

May 29, 2003

Andrew J. Ouderkirk of 3M in St. Paul, Minn., will be honored May 31 by the world's largest scientific society for inventing reflective films used in everything from computer displays to architectural lighting. He will receive a 2003 Industrial Innovation Award at the American Chemical Society's Great Lakes regional meeting in Chicago, Ill.

The vibrant, changing colors of butterfly wings are caused by light striking intricate patterns within the wing and changing depending on the angle of the light. Inspired by this beautiful phenomenon, Ouderkirk, a corporate scientist at 3M's Film and Light Management Technology Center, believed it was possible to replicate, with giant molecules called polymers, the reflective surfaces found in nature.

Using some of the polymer industry's advanced computer-driven design, Ouderkirk invented 3M's multilayer optical film technology platform and related products. The films are made up of hundreds of layers of two alternating polymers, each with its own ability to refract light. The films are flexible and as thin as a sheet of paper, and they reflect or transmit wavelengths in the ultraviolet, visible or near-infrared portions of the spectrum. They're currently used in applications as diverse as PDA displays, mirrors for electronic applications, telecommunications filters, automotive glass, LCD projection televisions, and medical imaging.

Ouderkirk's invention is also a major advance in optics. His research has challenged Brewster's Law, a 200-year-old scientific principle that describes restrictions on the reflection of light.

Ouderkirk received his bachelor's degree in chemistry from Northern Illinois University in 1978 and his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Northwestern University in 1983. Ouderkirk holds more than 70 patents.

The American Chemical Society's Industrial Innovation Awards recognize individuals and teams whose discoveries and inventions contribute to the commercial success of their companies and enhance our quality of life.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The winner will give a 20-minute presentation about his work on Saturday, May 31, at noon. If you would like to attend the awards banquet or presentation, please contact the person listed above.

American Chemical Society

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