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Chemist Ranked Among Top Local Inventors

Tobin Marks is best known for making plastics lighter and cheaper

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April 30, 2013 | by Megan Fellman

Tobin Marks

Tobin Marks

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University’s Tobin J. Marks, best known for creating better catalysts to make plastics used in sandwich bags and car bumpers lighter and cheaper, is number five in a ranking of area residents with the most patents.

Crain’s Chicago Business published the ranking this week in its Eureka Index, a by-the-numbers guide to local innovation.

Marks is the Vladimir N. Ipatieff Research Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.

In a related article, “City of Big Ideas,” Northwestern is ranked 13 among Illinois patent recipients for 2012.

- Below is text of a profile on Marks that originally appeared April 29, 2013, in Crain's.

Tobin Marks: 'Childish impatience' Pays Off

Unlike Benjamin Braddock in “The Graduate,” Tobin Marks found a future in plastics.

The chemistry and materials-science researcher is best known for creating better catalysts to make plastics used in sandwich bags and car bumpers lighter and cheaper. He runs a lab that has produced companies, including Polyera Corp., which is in Crain’s top 10 for patent output per employee. Mr. Marks has brought in more than $100 million in grants and royalties since coming to Northwestern in 1970.

He ranks fifth among Chicago-area inventors, with 126 U.S. patents since 1980, according to the database compiled by Ms. [Deborah] Strumsky, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Mr. Marks estimates his total patent count tops 200.

“I like pushing the frontiers, asking a question and seeing if you can answer it,” he says. “I’m curious about what things are made of at atomic levels. Can you change the nature of matter?”

But he likes chemistry because feedback is faster and better suited to “some of us who have childish impatience.”

Read the full story in Crain’s Chicago Business, April 29, 2013.