The magazine of the Case Alumni Association
at the Case School of Engineering


Unsung heroes

Factory workers and polymer scientists work overtime to fight the coronavirus


Healthcare heroes have attracted most of the attention in the battle against the coronavirus, as well they should. But many manufacturing workers and their science colleagues have also been working overtime to fight the pandemic.

Braskem America, a major polypropylene producer, made national news when its workers volunteered for “live-ins” at factories in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to produce the key polymer used in medical gowns, disinfectant wipes and face masks. During the first live-in that ended in late April, 44 employees worked and lived at the Braskem plant outside of Philadelphia for 28 straight days without leaving.

“The undertaking was just one example of the endless ways that Americans in every industry have uniquely contributed to fighting the coronavirus,” The Washington Post reported. “All of the workers volunteered, hunkering down at the plant to ensure no one caught the virus outside as they sought to meet the rocketing demand for their key product, polypropylene.”

A Case alumnus added scientific insight to the effort. Joel Carr, PhD ’13, Braskem’s U.S. product team leader, worked with his team in Pittsburgh to support the increased production with polymer engineering.

“Knowing that we are making products that go into these applications that keep health care workers safe is really empowering,” Carr told The Daily, CWRU’s online news source.

Carr said Braskem shifted products between factories in order to meet the sharp increases in demand. That move “is not trivial,” he said, adding that his team helped ensure “the products have the same polymer architecture and balance of properties” to meet application needs and customer expectations.

Carr, a PhD student of Professor Eric Baer, was a Charles Reed Fellow at Case and has enjoyed early success as a polymer scientist. In 2017, Plastics News named him a Rising Star for his success developing new polypropylene copolymers.

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