In a career spanning more than 30 years, Steve Rodgers has served as Principal and Consultant for EmergenTek LLC since 2011. His expertise lies in the application of advanced composites and materials, providing a competitive advantage to multiple industries including aerospace, automotive, energy, biomedical and electronics. As a high-level strategic thinker, Mr. Rodgers is recognized as bringing a unique perspective to seemingly disparate data, analyzing and communicating that perspective in ways that make it accessible, applicable and enabling. He believes that in the end, it is the simple, elegant solution that will predominate; furthermore, a proper understanding of the interplay of data is vital to achieving that solution.
Mr. Rodgers received the Utah Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology in 2012 for advancing economic development since 2006, working with the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. During that time, he was involved in the creation of more than 9,400 jobs.
We asked him a few questions about graphene.
1) What do you consider to be the most valuable potential application of graphene?
I have difficulty focusing on a single “most valuable” potential application of graphene. Part of that comes down to our definition of valuable, whether we are talking of wealth creation or a more altruistic value to society. Both are viable considerations and in an ideal universe, they overlap. In applications from water purification to energy creation and storage we can easily see the practical side represented. In biomedical equipment we see the potential contribution of graphene to things like the science of personalized health care with the ability to enable rapid cataloging of the human genome. On the other end of the balance sheet are the things that will contribute to lifestyle, including the opportunity to further reduce the weight of an aircraft, reducing operating expense and allowing for more air travel. As a 2D material that occupies the transitional space between Newtonian Physics and Quantum Physics, graphene shows an amazing versatility in the array of tasks it can perform.
It is the versatility of this disruptive material that is most valuable.
2) How would you characterize the nature of your involvement with the National Graphene Association?
I am a pragmatist. Like every new area of technology, we need to be on the lookout for the ugly babies: Those applications in which the technology is impractical, too costly or so revolutionary that it eludes public acceptance.
In order to speed this material to market responsibly we need to band together to pool our resources. That is very difficult to achieve in a highly competitive environment in which people want and need to protect their IP. Characterization and standardization will be critical to our success. The ISO standard for definition of 2D materials is a great start. There is much that can be learned from the rough and rocky road of nanotechnology commercialization a decade ago. As an extra benefit, we have better tools now than we did then.
My involvement is to lend my industry-building experience, both in economic development and technical society management, to the building of an industry infrastructure that supports the entrepreneurs in building this industry practically and profitably.
3) In what ways has your professional history shaped your relationship with the National Graphene Association?
In 1986 I joined SAMPE (The Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering) and in 2005 I was asked to join the Executive Cabinet. In FY 2010 I was International President and was able to initiate the activities that led to restructuring as a global organization. Here is the beauty of my SAMPE experience: Most trade associations focus on industry and most societies focus on academia. SAMPE maintains a ratio of about 40% academic and 60% industry content so there is an industry pull to the research done at the academic level. I think this is similar to what the NGA desires in order to support the entrepreneur.
My economic development experience has given me a broad sense of the challenges that technology businesses face and some of the meaningful ways in which we may be able to ease those challenges.
My broad sense of how seemingly disparate technologies are interrelated allows for the free flow of ideas and solutions from one industry to another. This will allow us as an industry build a solid foundation more quickly as we observe what those around us are doing and adapt their techniques where applicable.