Dr. Gayle Schueller is the Chief Sustainability Officer and Vice President of Sustainability and Product Stewardship at 3M. She received her BS in physics from the State University of New York at Geneseo and her PhD in materials science and engineering from the University of Virginia. Afterwards, Gayle began her career at 3M as a Product Development Specialist in 3M’s Corporate Research Materials Laboratory. Over the years, Gayle has worked in a variety of technical, project management, and leadership roles at 3M. In our interview, Gayle shares more about her life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (2:09)
In her free time, Gayle enjoys biking, eating great food, going to festivals, and spending time with her family. She is also an avid gardener, and she particularly likes growing flowering plants to attract bees.
The Scientific Side (3:04)
As Chief Sustainability Officer at a large, multinational company, Gayle has the opportunity to use science to have an impact on the world through the development of innovative products. These products span electronics, healthcare, consumer products, and other areas. She brings together teams of talented people to find innovative solutions and address sustainability problems.
A Dose of Motivation (5:16)
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mathatma Ghandi
“You shouldn’t complain about anything unless you are doing something about it.” – Gayle’s father
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
What Got You Hooked on Science? (8:35)
Gayle’s father was a chemistry teacher, and her mom was a special education teacher. Her parents had a big impact on her, and Gayle was drawn to the possibility of being able to both do science and help improve people’s lives. When she was in high school, her dad encouraged her to pursue chemistry and run track. However, a desire to forge her own path and rebel against her parents drove Gayle to study physics and start cheerleading. From those very early classes, Gayle loved physics. She was delighted to discover that physics involved a way of approaching problems that could range from explaining the mechanics of a hockey puck to determining how to launch a rocket into space. Later in graduate school, Gayle’s research interests turned to materials science, but even today she still continues to use the problem-solving approaches she learned through studying physics.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (17:40)
There have been a variety of challenges throughout Gayle’s career. These have included making it through the physics program in college, her PhD qualifying exam, oral exams, and preparing for her PhD dissertation. During these difficult times, there were days when Gayle wondered if she would make it. When she started at 3M, Gayle met a scientist who was working on a really cool aluminum composite with the hope of using it on parts to reduce the vibration transmitted through motorcycles. Unfortunately, that project never worked out. However, the lessons they learned from that early project using the aluminum composite were useful later on in developing highly conductive lightweight electrical cables, like those that are used to deliver electricity to homes and buildings. The lighter weight allowed the cables to cross longer spans, including over waterways and harbors. The cables using this material were also more conductive than previous materials which meant that more electricity could be carried to where it was needed. This was particularly important for densely populated cities.
A Shining Success! (22:35)
The first part of Gayle’s career at 3M was spent working in the electronics industry. After being a technical director in electronics for a few years, Gayle was presented an opportunity to transition to the healthcare area at 3M. This was an exciting opportunity, but Gayle didn’t feel prepared to accept it. One of her mentors suggested that she should work on developing an adhesive in the healthcare space that was more gentle and didn’t hurt so much to remove from skin. Gayle was welcomed to her new team, and she was surprised to discover that identifying a gentler adhesive tape for patients was a topic of great interest in the healthcare space. Ultimately, they connected with a team in the automotive branch of 3M that was developing a tape with materials that ended up being a good fit to try in their healthcare application. They had to adjust the chemistry from the industrial automotive version of the tape to one that would be appropriate for healthcare, and it was a success. It was really rewarding to introduce this new kind of tape since they had not done much innovation in medical tapes in a long time. Also, during testing, patients began asking for the new tape because they preferred it over the other kinds of tape. This really made Gayle feel like she was making a difference for people.
Book Recommendations (30:04)
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by Michael Braungart and William McDonough, The Big Pivot: Radically Practical Strategies for a Hotter, Scarcer, and More Open World by Andrew Winston.
Most Treasured Travel (32:17)
Gayle has had numerous opportunities to visit Shenzhen and nearby areas in Southern China. When she first went there, the roads in Shenzhen were not yet paved, and they were just starting to plant the palm trees that would later line the main boulevard through the city. While there, she enjoyed visiting customers and factory sites, but the air quality was a big challenge. She was able to return to the city after a while, and it was exciting to see that the roads were paved, buildings were being built, and the air quality was substantially better after some of the industrial manufacturing had been relocated to a different area. It was amazing to Gayle how much the Earth can recover when given the opportunity.
Another particularly memorable trip was when she visited Iceland with her family. During this trip, they visited the hydrothermal power plant that serves the capital city of Reykjavík. Gayle was impressed by Iceland’s use of thermal resources to provide sustainable energy to meet much of the nation’s energy needs. The ways that Iceland has applied scientific and technical knowledge to devise creative, low-waste energy solutions has really stuck with her.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (36:20)
Over the years, Gayle has experienced a variety of traditions working with different teams within 3M. These have included nominations for prestigious 3M awards for technical excellence and innovation, trivia games, costume contests, and more. Another thing she has really enjoyed about working at 3M is the variety. On the same day, she might attend one presentation about renewable energy and another presentation on a completely different topic. It is wonderful to work with scientists across many different research fields.
Advice For Us All (42:27)
Set your goals high, work hard, and do the best you can in the job you have. Know what you want, but also be open to other possibilities. Some of Gayle’s favorite career experiences are things that she never would have expected. Also, know that science and engineering are the best and biggest ways that we can change the world for the better for ourselves and for future generations.
Gayle’s role at 3M focuses on the use of science and innovation to create sustainability solutions. This work taps into her diverse expertise, which stems from working across a variety of 3M business, from electronics to healthcare to consumer industries. Most recently, Gayle and her team developed a new Strategic Sustainability Framework, focusing their efforts on Science for Circular, Science for Climate and Science for Community. They also introduced a Sustainability Value Commitment, which requires all new 3M products to demonstrate how they contribute to the greater good. Outside of work, Gayle enjoys staying active outdoors with her husband and three children – whether it’s a family bike ride, sampling the food options at local festivals or working in the garden. She notes that although she wasn’t born with a green thumb, she enjoys working at it and growing flowers to support the vital population of bees.