Engineer steps out of his comfort zone to innovate and collaborate for Minnesota.
“It’s always exciting to see an idea go from a sketch to a real object you can hold in your hand.”
Kory Jenkins has had many opportunities at NRRI to do just that. First in his role managing NRRI’s prototype and machine shop labs, and now engineering complex innovations, Jenkins works across disciplines he never thought he’d get to experience – from aerospace to medical devices.
Jenkins holds a doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Minnesota, with a focus on functional nanomaterials.
Recently, he’s worked with NRRI’s water scientists to develop a unique water treatment system to provide a low-cost, highly effective way to remove sulfate from water. This involved scaling up a process developed in the lab to a size that could be trialed with a demonstration partner.
“As we start to work at larger scales beyond the lab bench, there are unique challenges,” said Jenkins. “Whether I’m working with new chemicals or making sure a new equipment design is safe, I rely heavily on our environmental health and safety staff to keep me out of trouble.”
Innovating for Minnesota
A very “out of my realm” experience for Jenkins was taking part in a National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) training program with several NRRI colleagues. The goal is to get innovators “out of the building” to gain insight into entrepreneurship opportunities or industry and stakeholder challenges.
This national network aims to guide scientific research toward the developing solutions that benefit society. It fits hand-in-glove with NRRI’s charter to foster economic development in Minnesota. And even though the meetings were held virtually via Zoom, Jenkins stretched his skillset.
“I learned that a good communication strategy is essential with potential customers when new technologies are discussed,” said Jenkins. “In fragmented industries, like building construction, strategic communication helps to generate acceptance of new innovations among multiple stakeholders, complex supply chains, and varying regulatory environments.”
In addition to working across disciplines within NRRI, Jenkins works across the vast University of Minnesota system, making connections that often benefit other units. Recently, a proposal was funded to study extraction and processing of a new mineral resource in Minnesota because of a collaboration with the UMN Mechanical Engineering Department in the Twin Cities.
“Even if I can’t personally contribute to a project, I try to connect people who can make it happen,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins claims that keeping a sharp eye on his many diverse projects from a safety perspective is a “full time job” for NRRI’s Safety Manager, Jean Cranston. Working with NRRI’s Facilities Manager, Craig Maly, Cranston recently identified the need for upgraded lab ventilation, which has led to new equipment, capabilities and broadened client base.
Even in his spare time, Jenkins likes to work with his hands. As a challenge, he is waiting for pandemic restrictions to lift so he can enroll in a blacksmithing course. It’s been cancelled twice already, but he’s ready to sign up when it’s offered.
“It gives me something to look forward to as we navigate the pandemic” he added.