Che-I Kao

For his outstanding accomplishments in polymer and organic chemical technology, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Che-I Kao.

Chief Scientist and Research Fellow,
Dow Chemical Company
MSChE '66, PhD '68

Kao bust

On his Purdue days

As a foreign student I found my first year at Purdue very challenging. My poor proficiency in English forced me to study much harder than other students. The benefit was that I established a sound fundamental technical foundation. The broad coursework I took-chemical engineering, chemistry, math, and statistics-gave me an excellent framework for future continual learning and allowed me to work across many technological disciplines. The multidisciplinary training was critical to my successful career. I was very proud of my straight-A record.

At Purdue it was study and study and study, so there was not much time for social activities. I was a member of Sigma Xi and Phi Epsilon Lambda, and my wife and I did establish some close friendships with people around Lafayette through the foster family program. Those friendships were important to us and were stabilizing forces for foreign students. We still maintain contact with those friends after all these years.

On his career

My major goal at Purdue was to learn as much as possible, get a job for a couple of years in industry, and then return to Taiwan. Long-term career planning is not very accurate, though! I've now lived in the U.S. for more than 30 years-longer than in Taiwan. At the beginning of my career, I could never have dreamed that I would become the chief scientist at Dow; in fact, Dow did not even have such a position until the 1980s. Young Kao at work

It is important to have a long-term vision for your career, but it is much more important to concentrate on overcoming the current challenges. Meeting the short-term goals, making an impact on the business, and establishing credibility are essential for career growth. On the other hand, one must be willing to make changes along the way, adapting to the new challenges and career options. The willingness to take risks and the ability to lead are critical elements, in addition to technical skills, for a successful career.

Another ingredient is continual learning. Even though I was schooled to become a chemical engineer, my Dow assignments span reaction engineering, chemistry, the structure-property relationship of polymers, and materials sciences. I was lucky to be able to learn, contribute, and make a significant impact throughout my Dow career. I am very grateful that my contributions have been recognized not only by the company but also by my professional peers in the American Chemical Society and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. My goal has always been to be a top scientist, but my roles have varied from technical professional to manager to teacher to mentor. In addition, I play a significant leadership role now, looking for areas of future growth for Dow.

On engineering education and the future of the chemical industry

The growth of the U.S. chemical industry in the last 30 years has come from the expansion and optimization of current products. There have been relatively few new product innovations. The chemical industry is facing significant competition from low-cost producers in developing and oil-producing countries. To revive the growth of the U.S. chemical industry, the major chemical companies are looking for new product innovations. This requires people with leadership skills, people who are visionary and willing to take risks, who have a broad technical base, and who can synthesize technologies into commercial opportunities.

Universities must modify the skill sets of their graduates. This is especially true for post-baccalaureate graduates. In addition to training specialists-students who have a very specific skill set-the universities must emphasize the methodologies of continuously acquiring new knowledge and doing research.


Chief Scientist and Research Fellow, Dow Chemical. Maximizes impact and contributions of Dow technical community to create new value for Dow. Leads development and commercialization of Insite technology for polyolefin plastomers and elastomers. Insite is a proprietary single-site catalyst technology that has produced two new polymer families.
Herbert H. Dow Medal.
Texas Gulf Coast AIChE Distinguished Member Award.
Senior Research Scientist, Polyolefins and Elastomers R&D. Scaled up and commercialized Insite technology to production within one year.
Senior Research Scientist, Polycarbonate Research. Led development and implementation of process, product, and materials sciences technologies for Dow polycarbonate and blends business.
S/B Latex Technology Center Award.
Brazosport ACS Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement.
Research Scientist, Polycarbonate Research.
Senior Associate Scientist, Designed Latexes and Resins Research.
Research Manager.
Group Leader.
Research Specialist.
Senior Research Engineer, Dow.

BSChE '63, National Taiwan University; MSChE '66, PhD '68, Purdue.