Paul Fagan was born to be a scientist. His mother was a chemistry teacher and his father a biochemist at a large pharmaceutical company. “I decided at a very young age that I also wanted to be a chemist,” says Fagan, a Senior Principal Scientist at the Experimental Station in Wilmington, Delaware. He credits his parents for instilling in him a love for the sciences, and for steering him toward his long, satisfying and successful career at DuPont.
Fagan has been awarded a DuPont 2017 Pedersen Medal, which recognizes outstanding technological achievements and scientific excellence that has delivered value to DuPont customers.
Fagan joined DuPont more than 35 years ago, and has been in research ever since. Fresh from completing a National Science Foundation post-doctoral research fellowship at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Fagan moved to Wilmington, Delaware to join the company as a synthetic chemist. Over the next decade he was known as a resident expert in inorganic chemistry, and became the go-to person for creating catalysts to speed up chemical reactions and make them cleaner.
After that, Fagan began to work on more applied projects. He worked on a new fungicide and developed a process that uses corn stover, a byproduct of corn, to create biofuels. “That way we were able to help farmers and improve sustainability for the environment,” Fagan said. “It was fun. It’s immensely rewarding to discover new molecules, and new ways to produce them more efficiently.”
Recently, Fagan has been studying the chemistry of biomass and working on developing new molecules from plant sources rather than petrochemicals. “Our customers feel strongly about using packaging material that is sustainably produced, and can go into the recycle stream,” Fagan says. “It’s a very exciting area.” His team came up with a way to make packaging lighter.
Although Fagan considered careers and interviewed for positions in both academia and industry when he finished graduate school, he is very satisfied with his choice of a career at DuPont.
“DuPont does the same kind of fundamental research that academics do, but does it with the intention of bringing value to customers,” he says. “And DuPont is also a place where some of the highest-caliber scientists in the world work. It’s viewed as one of the best scientific organizations on the planet.”
Before coming to DuPont, Fagan respected — even idolized — many of the scientists there: Patricia Watson, Thomas Tulip, David Thorn, and William Nugent, among others. This also tipped his decision on where to build his career.
“It was the only place I really desired to go to,” says Fagan. “I said ‘Well, this is the place for me.’ I was blessed, really, to work here, and I still think that way.”