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Jamie Garcia, IBM Research scientist

Jamie Garcia, IBM Research scientist

By Steve Hamm

When scientists succeed at IBM Research, they tend to stay. Robert Dennard, the inventor of the DRAM, for instance, had been at IBM for 56 years when he retired earlier this year. But there are researchers at the opposite end of the seniority spectrum who are already making their marks—on IBM and the world.

One of them is Jeannette “Jamie” Garcia, a 31-year-old chemist who became a full-time employee at IBM Research just last November—after a one-year stint as a post-doctoral fellow. Jamie has done something quite remarkable: she spearheaded the invention of a new class of materials, which have the potential to shake up the aerospace, auto and semiconductor industries.

Jamie’s team at IBM Research – Almaden, which is led by chemistry pioneer James Hedrick, completed the work on the new class of polymers. Their advances were made public for the first time in an article published today in Science magazine.

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Polymers are one of the indispensible facts of modern life.  In the form of plastics, they’re essential elements in items ranging from clothing (polyester), to food packaging (polystyrene) to major components of cars and aircraft (polymide).  Innovation exploded in the 1950s and ‘60s, (There’s a famous scene in the classic 1967 movie, The Graduate, in which an aimless college graduate gets a single word of advice from an elder: “Plastics.”) However, in the past several decades, scientific advances had slowed to a trickle.

Now IBM scientists are using computation chemistry to accelerate the discovery process. They combine lab experimentation with the use of high-performance computing to model new polymer forming reactions. “We’re now able to predict how molecules will respond to chemical reactions,” says James, who is best known for his work in creating plastics that can be recycled for many uses.

The team developed two related polymers, one, poly(hexahydrotriazine), or PHT, and the other, Poly(hemiaminal), or PHA. They have features that could make them useful in manufacturing materials, consumer goods or even pharmaceuticals.

Jamie’s aha! moment took place in the chemistry lab. In a happy accident, she left a reagent out of a mix of chemicals she was preparing.  When she applied heat to the beaker, the milky material hardened into a chunk with her stir bar stuck in it. She tried to grind it with a mortar and pestle. When that didn’t work, she hit it with a hammer. The chunk seemed to be indestructible. “I was excited. This was totally unexpected,” she says. “New polymer forming reactions that make new materials don’t come along every day.”

She had created a new material—but she just didn’t know what it was yet. With help from James and the team, she used a combination of techniques, including quantum mechanical computer modeling, to identify the material. Through further experiments and calculations, they discovered that they had a substance that’s strong, light, resistant to solvent and environmental stress cracking, and recyclable into its original form. It could be used in composite materials in autos and aircraft, and in semiconductor manufacturing.

A second polymer, which also emerged out of Jamie’s experiments, is a gooey material that’s closely related to the hard one. In addition to being light and recyclable, it’s elastic. If you coat two surfaces with the material and stick them together it forms an incredibly strong bond. It could be used as an adhesive, in paint, in fingernail polish and even as an agent for slow-release of drugs.

Jamie grew up in a neighborhood of Seattle—the classic curious kid. Even before she could read, she wondered what made things work. “I wanted to know what was inside them, what they were,” she says. Her father, a community college math teacher, and, mother, a risk manager for a healthcare provider, encouraged her to explore and experiment. They didn’t make much of a fuss when she took apart everything from TV remote controls to household decorations.

She focused on organic chemistry in undergraduate school and got her PhD. in organo catalysis—small-molecule bonding—at Boston College. She was attracted to IBM Research by James Hedrick’s work on fully-recyclable plastics. “The environmental issues are very important to me. It’s something you could work on your entire career, to make things more sustainable,” she says.

Jamie is off to a fast start at IBM. If she sticks to it for as long as Bob Dennard did, you can expect to see many more innovations coming from her—and, perhaps, some major contributions to saving the planet.

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July 26, 2016
4:09 am

This may be late (2016), but congratulations Jamie. I wonder if you are still embracing this opportunity. I myself have been trading stocks and forex currencies on

Some of you may say that this is a lose-lose type of activity, but if you look at what IBM is doing, you will see that it is all the same.

Posted by:
July 25, 2016
11:43 am

This is a very interesting subject. We would all like to build better and cheaper products. This comes when there is better materials to be used.

Posted by: Hack Twitter
May 27, 2016
4:53 am

It could be used in composite materials in autos and aircraft, and in semiconductor manufacturing.

Posted by:
May 27, 2016
3:40 am

completed the work on the new class of polymers.

Posted by:
March 25, 2016
8:18 am

Everything is very open with a precise descriuption off the
challenges. It was really informative. Youur website is extremely
helpful. Thaank you for sharing!

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May 30, 2014
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Posted by: Monroe
May 29, 2014
10:32 pm

I wish we had more awesome examples like yours inside our IBM sites in Mexico, it will definitely boost the interest on chemistry related topics and specially to those to “make a better/safer/smarter planet” since there’s a lot of people with great skills and knowledge locally but since there’s no research division down here is harder to get those “wild ducks” to the surface when most of the population is thinking on Cloud and Big Data. Nonetheless I really want to say CONGRATULATIONS and I will definitely share your story!

Posted by: Marco Ramirez
May 28, 2014
12:03 pm

Great work Jamie & team at IBM Research’s

Posted by: ANNAMALAI
May 28, 2014
9:00 am

Awesome ! well done Jamie!

Posted by: ann johnston
May 28, 2014
5:23 am

Congrats, Great Work. Jamie.

Posted by: Mala
May 28, 2014
12:01 am

Congratulations, Jamie! We are super lucky to have you. Really looking forward to having the opportunity to work with you on a client project! Best of wishes on a tremendous career ahead.
p.s. I shared your video with my 5yr and 8 yr. nieces ;) You are a total inspiration.

Posted by: Erika Perez
May 27, 2014
9:32 am

“The two new plastics are such exciting experimental results. I am so happy about you discovery,Jamie. It amazing how it happen!”

Posted by: Jan(McMorris)Manimoi
May 27, 2014
4:24 am

W O W ! :)) Hearty Congratulations Jamie ! Great achievement. I believe this innovation is going to bring lot of nice changes in the world !

Posted by: Parimala R
May 26, 2014
11:29 pm

Congrats Jamie and team for opening new frontiers in a every changing world

Posted by: Krishnan Veeramony
May 26, 2014
9:51 pm

Congratulations Jamie and team for superb performance.
True example of
“Innovation that matters – for our company and for the world”.

Posted by: Ashish khurana
May 26, 2014
12:03 pm

Amazing story! Congratulations on this achievement.

Posted by: Mauricio Villalobos
May 26, 2014
3:51 am

Congratulations. Classic example of everything coming together at the right moment.

Posted by: Usha Ramdas
May 26, 2014
2:29 am

Being an erstwhile Polymer engineer I can fully relate to the discovery ..Many congratulations ……. Jamie……had a small question appears to be a thermoset polymer then how it is “recyclable into its original form”. From the description above it is resistant to solvent & heating might not help right?

Posted by: Subhabrata Ganguly
May 25, 2014
9:34 pm

Congratulations Jamie and James for your outstanding work!

Posted by: Jo Cheng
May 24, 2014
9:06 am

Great work! Jamie – Lets nurture the nature, so that we can have a better future. :) KEEP IT UP

Posted by: Rajesh Y
May 23, 2014
9:45 am

Congratulations Jamie. Great discovery! In addition, it is a fantastic contribution to the body of knowledge in polymer research.

Posted by: Vincent Di Palermo
May 23, 2014
6:44 am

Thats nice to hear and the world needs some path breaking innovations for everything is grinding to a halt. From what I see this material may help reducing fatalities in accidents and who knows a million more benifits to Human kind. Congratultaions to Jamie and her team. As a aeronautical engineeer my self I see this helping the aircraft industries in redusing the usage of metals in Aricrafts and thus increasing the efficiency.
Do keep us updated

Posted by: Leo Peter Charles
May 23, 2014
4:14 am

Very nice to read. Thanks again

Posted by: Richard
May 23, 2014
2:14 am

The fortune is with the hard working ones. There are lots of examples where world changing things have been discovered by accident, like penicillin or Teflon. Congratulation.

Posted by: Mario Sailer
May 22, 2014
10:10 pm

Congratualtions Jamie! Inspiring! Right place, right moment, right person!!! I hope to fly in airplane made of that material!

Posted by: Christina Silveira
May 22, 2014
3:50 pm

Really cool stuff Jamie. Keep innovating!

Posted by: tim ravey
May 22, 2014
12:44 pm

Great discovery!

Its amazing what an accident can produce and lead to a major breakthrough. Thank you for being a risk taker.

Posted by: Darryl Dugan
May 22, 2014
9:53 am

Awesome! Congratulations

Posted by: Al
May 22, 2014
9:38 am

What a wonderful discovery! Congratulations Jamie!

Posted by: Marissa Baker
May 22, 2014
6:28 am

F A N T A S T I C. Human kind is just a new kid in the block of Universe. These steps will usher our evolution as an intelligent kind.

Posted by: Shivalik
May 22, 2014
5:47 am

Good achievement!!! still don’t stop here…

Posted by: Kanika
May 22, 2014
4:56 am

Congratulations Jamie, Great work!! Keep it up!!

Posted by: Durga
May 22, 2014
3:17 am

Congratulations Jamie on the new environmental friendly plastic…great work!

Posted by: Murali Krishna S
May 21, 2014
11:47 pm

Jamie, Very impressive. Congratulations on this achievement!

Posted by: Suresh Jagtao
May 21, 2014
10:36 pm

Jamie, What a great example of the depth and breadth of research within IBM Research! These polymers have a real potential for printer circuit boards, outer hardware casings and product protective packaging. Very cool :-)

Posted by: Michael Chanell
May 21, 2014
4:38 pm

Great work Jamie! I sent a copy of the article to my dad who was fascinated since he is a long retired Chemist that worked at a Plastics company for many years but loves to hear about all the innovation

Posted by: Dianne Robichaud
May 21, 2014
3:44 pm

Great article! Jaime, I’m going to use you as an example when I present at an elementary school Career Day on Friday!
Great story!

Posted by: Julie Craft
May 21, 2014
3:28 pm

So very interesting that the base discovery came about by accident…
Nonetheless, a stunning achievement. We need such materials to cut down on our waste and pollution. Congratulations!

Posted by: Mark Dixon
May 21, 2014
2:11 pm

Bravo for this wonderful innovation. Hope this can help to reduce the amount of plastics in the ocean.

Posted by: Philippe
May 21, 2014
8:26 am

Jamie, Very impressive. Congratulations on this achievement!

Posted by: Victoria Guerra
May 21, 2014
6:54 am

Jamie, I do care about our mother earth and your invention can save our beloved planet. Congratulation and wish you all the best.

Posted by: Gautam Datta
May 21, 2014
6:45 am

The impact is going to phenomenal for our planet – Great work Jamie. Sheer brilliance.

Posted by: waheed mahmood
May 21, 2014
6:44 am

Congrats Jamie, Excellent work, we need researches like you to be there to save environment.

Posted by: Rajveer Vashisth
May 21, 2014
4:11 am

Congrats, love to hear more innovations from you.

Posted by: Satish Gangadhar
May 21, 2014
3:14 am

IBM Research is a goldmine. Congratulations Jamie!

Posted by: Amritha Alapati
May 19, 2014
8:34 am

Congratulations Jamie!
Excellent work, You well deserved it. May your passion and success grow along you.

Posted by: Muhammad Attique
May 16, 2014
11:59 am

I am an italian chemical engineer and i work in the field of environmental , also for treatments of waste water ; which type of plants you uses for depures all type of waste , also for great quantity and for dangerous elements, not only discharge by laboratories but also by production plants ?

Ing. Franco Pace

Posted by: Franco Pace
May 16, 2014
10:46 am

Great work Jamie! Love you passion for the environment…”to make things more sustainable.” Congratulations on your achievement!

Posted by: Steven Wysmuller
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