A top DuPont scientist at TWU reverses brain drain in Canada

Langley, British Columbia—Though stories abound highlighting the effects of Canada's brain drain of scholars to the US, Trinity Western University is doing its part to reverse the trend. One of TWU's most recent faculty recruits is Chad Friesen, PhD, a top chemical researcher from DuPont and a poster boy for a refreshing example of Canadian brain gain.

Friesen, who recently turned 27, already has a list of accomplishments that would make any US university salivate and most Canadian institutions feel like they might as well not waste their time trying.

In 1996 Friesen was fast-tracked into graduate research at the University of Alabama for a top-secret project for DuPont, a project that propelled him into the top ranks of his field.

“The project was to modify a lubricant used by NASA so that the new lubricant could sustain even more extreme temperatures than the original, maintaining the low range for the liquid state at -54 degrees Celsius while increasing the high range up to 400 degrees Celsius,” says Friesen. “The modified lubricant we developed for NASA has direct applications for high-temperature turbine engines used in space shuttles, and for satellites and other aerospace equipment. Other variations of this lubricant are now used in fire-fighting equipment and in the production of computer hard-drives.”

When Friesen and a select team completed the research and presented findings to John Howell and his research team at DuPont, the world's number one research and development corporation was so impressed with Friesen that they decided to offer him a job—an offer he couldn't refuse. Hiring the young star, who at 25 was half the average age of other DuPont researchers, paid off quickly for DuPont. Friesen, who completed his PhD studies while working at DuPont, went on to crack a problem that DuPont scientists had been working on for 40 years.

“The problem involved figuring out what to do with hazardous chemical byproducts,” says Friesen. “I found a solution that allowed us to use the byproduct for the computer industry. We now have a patent pending on a fluid that enables computer chip manufacturers to run the machines that maintain the precise atmospheric conditions needed for production.”

After quickly reaching a level of success most scientists never achieve in a lifetime—top secret research projects, a patent, a high-paying, high-powered research position at the top research and development corporation—Friesen's move to Trinity Western University has surprised Howell and other researchers at DuPont. But for Friesen, with his laid-back drawl and down to earth presence, the priorities of family and faith and his passion for teaching are what led him to Canada and Trinity Western.

“I was fearful that I'd get caught in the rut of focusing on money and not on people,” reflects Friesen. “With the kind of money I was making it's a strong draw. And so I pictured what I might be like five, ten years down the road, and I didn't like what I saw. When you're being paid that much, you're being paid for your time and your work must become the priority. I could see later on that I would have less and less time with my family, which was a priority I wasn't willing to sacrifice.”

For Friesen, at the core of his priorities is his Christian faith. While he considers his success a blessing from God, he is most thankful for the opportunities he's had to build relationships with people, and sees these opportunities as key in his decision to come to Trinity Western and teach chemistry.

“I realized that much of the enjoyment I got out of my work was directly related to the relationships I had with people and the opportunities to teach as a graduate student and in the industry,” says Friesen. “The move to teaching seemed to combine two of my passions, people and chemistry. And though I had about ten job offers in the US—something way above my expectations—the decision to come to Trinity Western was the most natural one for my wife and I. We found quality academic programs here and at the other universities offering me positions, but the community atmosphere at TWU and its commitment to faith and family values convinced us that this is where we should be.”

While Friesen feels confident that he's in the right spot, and enjoys the time he has to spend with his family, he is still actively pursuing his passion for chemistry. He is working on a project with a Washington State company, Western Chemical, to develop a way to tag migrating routes of salmon in a non-invasive way. And Friesen maintains strong ties to DuPont, with offers to continue researching for them while remaining at TWU. Friesen has also recently come to an agreement with John Howell to begin a co-op program between TWU and DuPont—an agreement that gives TWU chemistry students a unique opportunity.

“John [Howell] and I have worked out a few projects that he's going to send me. Students will have the chance to help me out with some industry-related lab work,” says Friesen. “Doing the co-op will be very valuable for the students. If students do a co-op for a company like DuPont, they won't have any problem finding a job when they graduate.”

As students take advantage of learning chemistry from Friesen, a top academic who is choosing to invest his expertise in a Canadian university, they also have a strong model for basing life-decisions on priorities beyond money—priorities that enable a Canadian university like Trinity Western University to attract top scholars like Chad Friesen.

Trinity Western University, located in Langley, B.C., is a privately funded Christian liberal arts university enrolling 2,850 students this year. With a broad-based, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 34 major areas ranging from business, education and computer science to biology and nursing, and 12 graduate degrees including counselling psychology, theology and administrative leadership.

Last Updated: 2012-08-21
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