As for the regular paper in your printer, Courtenay and her team ensure that its fibers are robust enough to print on both sides, but smooth enough not to stick together and jam up the works. At HP, there are thousands of chemists behind the scenes working on materials like environmentally-safe latex ink, powder made of plastic for industrial 3D printers and inkjet nozzles so tiny that they can print antibiotics.
“The one thing that we always need to understand is that chemistry is all around us,” says Courtenay, R&D manager, Latex ink and dispersion at HP. “We, ourselves, are really marvelous examples of a multitude of complex and also simple chemical components. When we break it down to a microscopic level, we realize this, too, is chemistry.”
Her career has evolved from developing those specialized coatings for photo paper to leading the company’s environmental strategy for paper of all types and developing ink for HP' Graphics Solutions Business. One of her patents is for the composition of printer paper made of a mixture of hardwood and softwood pulp that has a basis weight of less than 100 grams per square meter. This innovation means that HP can produce a lighter-weight paper product, which reduces environmental footprint and slashes shipping costs. “Every few years or so, I’ve been learning something new,” she says.
Her team had a major breakthrough with the development of ink for HP's Latex R Series, a commercial portfolio of printers that not only can print on both rigid and flexible surfaces such as plastic, wood and metal — but also serves up the holy grail of latex-based printing: bright white ink. She credits her success to her team’s tenacity in tackling new challenges. “We always have hard problems to solve, but I think our team has shown over and over again that we can solve them,” she says. “Whatever has been thrown at us, usually we overcome it.”
Based out of HP’s San Diego, California, office, Courtenay hails from a small German town near the Baltic Sea called Eutin, about an hour from Hamburg. She emigrated to Canada where she completed an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from the University of Windsor in Ontario. She lives in Temecula with her husband and teenage son and daughter. Currently, she manages a team of seven chemists and two interns in the Graphics Solutions Business developing latex inks for wide-format printers.
We recently asked her about her fascinating work at HP and for her best advice for those interested in chemistry careers.