For Scott Gaynor, hunting for new polymers in the lab is “just like the hunting I did as a boy: you never know what’s behind the next tree.” As assistant director of the Macromolecular Engineering Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University, Gaynor discovered catalysts that led to a new technology for synthesizing versatile and customizable polymers. Gaynor then played a lead role in developing the process to make polymers that could be used in everything from coatings to microelectronics to cosmetics. The technology is now being investigated by dozens of manufacturers worldwide for use in commercial applications. The process, “atom transfer radical polymerization,” is more tolerant of water, dust, and other impurities than other polymerization processes, a plus in industrial settings. Gaynor, who holds 10 patents and has three more pending, joined Dow Chemical in 2000, where he has developed new techniques to synthesize variants of common plastics, with improved properties. Gaynor is now preparing light-emitting polymers that could result in video displays that are thinner, sharper, and brighter than current flat-panel liquid-crystal displays.