Only six years removed from receiving a doctoral degree in macro molecular science and engineering at Virginia Tech, Abhishek Roy is making a name for himself at the Dow Chemical Company.

A senior research scientist with Dow, Roy was recently honored with the company’s highest Sustainability Innovator Award – placing himself as one of only five to have earned the distinction. His work with Dow led him receive the 2014 Virginia Tech Outstanding Recent Alumni Award.

Roy, a native of Calcutta, India, earned chemistry and polymer science, and engineering degrees in Calcutta before coming to Virginia Tech in 2003. He was drawn to the university largely because of the work of the late James McGrath, the University Distinguished Professor of Chemistry who died May 17.

“In India, I was taking a program on polymer science and engineering as part of a three year post-bachelor’s program and being oriented with what was happening around the world in the discipline,” he explained. “Who else was better known than James McGrath? It was he who got me interested in Virginia Tech and I was very fortunate to have him as my doctoral advisor and to be able to learn from him.” 

Both Roy and his wife, Mou Paul, earned their doctoral degrees from Virginia Tech.

At Virginia Tech, his research focused on understanding the transport properties of ion containing polymers and to develop novel structure-property relationships to guide next gen research. 

As he completed his doctoral work, Roy said he had to choose between industrial research or academics. 

“When you look at industrial research, and given the fundamentals of what Virginia Tech teaches you in the polymer program, you become very desirable to companies for a diverse range of polymer applications," said Roy. "The polymer program gives you experience in various different disciplines within polymer science, so you know chemistry, physics, and how polymer science plays into all of it. Coming out of this university is a big differentiator because you bring a built-in interdisciplinary skill set.”

Roy said the number of Virginia Tech alumni showing up in programs like Dow’s is likely to increase as new programs, especially within the College of Science, focus on interdisciplinary skills at the undergraduate level, such as the new nanoscience program.

“Virginia Tech is moving in the right direction and it will make the fundamentals even stronger,” he said.

Roy’s current work involves developing short and long term innovations in reverse osmosis membrane chemistry development. The membranes he develops are used for desalination, industrial water and residential water purification applications. 

“Water is considered one of the emerging mega trends and it’s an area we’re deeply involved in," he said. "There is a lot of chemistry, chemical engineering and polymer science involved in the area."

Roy is credited as the primary inventor of DOW FILMTEC™ ECO Reverse Osmosis Elements. With large-scale, positive sustainability impact, this technology was recently announced as Dow's second Breakthrough to World Challenges. The solution fights water scarcity by delivering 40 percent better purification with 30 percent less energy and has the potential to impact millions of lives. 

The technology has been commercialized into several different novel product offerings over the last three years. The technology also has been also leveraged to make “tankless” residential elements. 

“This technology sits right in the middle of the triangle of energy, water, and food, and I owe my success to what I learned here at Virginia Tech,” Roy said.

Besides working in RO membrane, he also contributed to the development of a new 2D high temperature liquid chromatography separation method with applications towards fundamental and product development research for polyolefins, elastomers and other industrial polymers. The technology is patented and currently being considered by third party for market introduction as a commercially available separation science characterization method.

Roy has co-authored more than 30 peer reviewed journal publications with 700 plus citations, filed more than 30 patent applications, and received awards from ACS divisions of fuel chemistry and polymer chemistry.