Photo of John A. Ewen

John A. Ewen

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Manufacturing

For his basic discoveries and inventions in the field of metallocene catalysis which have revolutionized the production of polyethylene and polypropylene plastics, thereby enhancing American leadership and stimulating the growth of the entire industry.

Golf balls, medical IV bags, automobile parts and food storage containers may not seem to have much in common, but these objects are all made from the same durable plastic invented by John A. Ewen.

Ewen, the former president of Catalyst Research Corporation, is best known for his work with metallocenes, a catalyst used in the processing of polyethylene and polypropylene plastics. Ewen’s research led to the manufacturing of plastics that were durable, heatproof, tear resistant and transparent. They could also be produced at a higher rate of speed.

His work revolutionized the now-multibillion dollar plastics industry and laid the groundwork for hundreds of subsequent patents.

Ewen, a native of Kingston, Jamaica, discovered his love of chemistry at the University of the West Indies. After graduating from that institution, he immigrated to the United States to continue his education at Tulane University, in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he earned his Ph.D.

After graduation, he worked in manufacturing—at ExxonMobil and later Fina Oil and Chemical Oil Company—and pioneered his plastics research. In addition to his notable work with metallocense, Ewen also developed the “Ewen Symmetry Rules” to make plastics stronger, waterproof and better suited for a diverse range of applications.

By Sydni Dunn