As a research and development team leader at Chevron Corporation, Hye Kyung Timken (PhD, '87, Oldfield) has worked for the last 20 years on groundbreaking technology that is now poised to transform gasoline production at oil refineries into a safer, more efficient and more environmentally friendly process.
After earning her doctoral degree in chemistry at Illinois, Timken moved on to Chevron, where she is now a Chevron Fellow, one of about 30 fellows in the company that employs thousands of technologists. Membership in the Chevron Fellows is reserved for those whose contributions are best described as visionary, according to the company.
As a fellow and team leader, Timken works to make products and processes more efficient, cleaner, and safer, and for those accomplishments, she is the recipient of an LAS Alumni Achievement Award, one of 10 alumni from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences named a recipient of the college’s 2020 annual alumni awards. Timken and the other winners were honored during LAS Impact 2020, a weeklong celebration of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences that began on Oct. 26.
Timken said she and her team worked for the last two decades on the new technological process of making gasoline, one of the most dangerous processes, much more safe and efficient. In her 33-year industrial career with more than 100 patents associated with her name, Timken said this new technology is one of the accomplishments that makes her most proud.
At Illinois, her favorite class was Chemistry 407, Advanced Inorganic Chemistry, which she took as a first-year PhD student. It was an eye-opening class, she said, but in her second year, she decided to switch from the area of inorganic chemistry to physical chemistry, which required changing her Phd advisor.
“That was a lot of initiative on my part and a pretty bold decision and that helped me into a new field, expand my horizons,” she said. “Whenever I have difficult decisions, I think about that first difficult decision in Illinois.”
Although this was a tough decision, it was also the most impactful, Timken said. It gave her confidence to expand into new areas and to not hesitate and speak up. She believes that these sorts of challenging decisions are also what help people grow into who they become.
“I think that life is not always monochromous. It is ups and downs, and the problems are difficult,” she said. “But then those give the best lessons. So when you have a problem or issues, you are not alone… You are going to look back and (think), ‘By overcoming this problem I become a better person.’”
Hear Timken talk more about her Illinois experience in this video interview.