BEHIND THE SCIENCE: MEET MARY MALLORY – A STUDENT OF 'WHY?'
We live in a world of scientific discoveries where everyday products make our lives more convenient and our communities healthier. But rarely do we consider how those products came to be. From automated towel dispensers to the wipers that keep aviation parts clean, there is more than just a brain behind every solution – there is also a story.
In this interview series, Kimberly-Clark Professional* profiles the scientists whose work and findings have helped make our everyday better.
For Mary Mallory, material developer program leader at Kimberly-Clark Professional*, one question has always been burning in her mind: “Why?” It was her inquisitive nature that led Mallory to pursue a career in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Over the course of her 16-year career at Kimberly-Clark, Mallory has consistently been a testament to the expression “dig deeper.”
This STEM is Bananas
When I was in about the 8th or 9th grade, I visited a family member who worked in the Chemistry department at the University of Florida. There were all these experiments they were doing to make polymers smell a certain way by creating new molecules. At one point, one of the students asked, "Would you like it to smell like bananas?"
She put a simple drop into the mixture, and voila, the whole lab immediately began to smell like bananas. It sparked my interest in STEM, knowing what you could do with just a basic understanding of the chemistry and physics behind things.
PREP-ing for a Career
I had an AP Chemistry teacher my junior year who encouraged me to attend a summer program at Georgia Tech. It was a week-long course where you rotated between a variety of STEM fields.
After the chemical engineering course, I used a pay phone to make a long-distance call home and was like, "This is it, Mom. This is what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a chemical engineer."
Why, Why, Why?
I attended Georgia Tech to study chemical engineering, which I have joked was like being a glorified plumber.
I’ll always remember one time when I was struggling with one of the principles of fluid dynamics and went to the professor’s office. He kept asking questions and I kept asking questions until he asked, "Do you understand?" It was the first time I fully understood anything that any professor had ever said to me at Georgia Tech.
It taught me to continuously seek the answer to “why?” Just continue asking why, why, why until you fully understand something. That was the best moment that I’ve ever had in terms of instruction – being encouraged to ask why.
Continue to Question
After graduating, I started working full time at Kimberly-Clark Professional*. Today, I'm a materials developer program leader, working on our key category, which is wipers. It’s very critical that we control the pH of the wipers so that we don't negatively impact the customer’s process.
One time, we were running a process trial when we happened to notice that we could change the pH of the materials. We went through a series of asking why, I think for almost a total of seven times. We then ran four or five more subsequent process trials before realizing, "Holy crumbs, we did this."
When you realize that you’ve figured out a way to take raw material from any time of the year and environmentally process it without chemicals to control the pH… it is huge.
Removing Tweezers from the Equation
My work involves the cleaning of industrial surfaces. Typically, the surface of a composite material is extremely abrasive, so traditional cleaning materials fall apart. They shred.
In the aerospace and wind energy industry, there are very large structures, which take a long time to clean, and the cleaning process is critical. They can't have lint. In fact, if you’re using a cotton cloth and it gets snagged up on something, you have to go back with tweezers and pull that snagged material off of the surface.
So, we worked with a customer and spent months trying to understand the mechanism of what our customers would call “linting,” and came up with the Kimtech* Precision Cleaning Cloth + Chemical Application. We like to call it the indestructible cloth, if you will.
It is a non-woven material that can clean the most abrasive of materials without falling apart, yet it feels like a cloth. We've trialed it with several customers who were ecstatic that it wasn’t falling apart. I’ll never forget when the guys were like, "I don't have to get my tweezers out. This is awesome!"
Advice for Someone Looking to Enter the STEM Fields
Always ask the question why. Become a lifelong lover of learning, but never stop asking why. Dig until you get the answers that you're satisfied with. It may take some humility, but keep asking why.