Spark Award

Caroline Ylitalo, Ph.D.


For career-long technical excellence; for extraordinary dedication to encouraging girls and women in science and engineering; and for a legacy of mentorship informed by wisdom and compassion.

Caroline Ylitalo, Ph.D., serves as a division scientist in the technology development group of the 3M Personal Safety Division. Throughout her career, she has focused on developing new technologies that can be used across multiple 3M businesses, including printing inks, graphics films, antimicrobial technologies, and respiratory protection products.

Dr. Ylitalo has consistently demonstrated herself to be a dedicated and caring mentor and supporter of women seeking careers in engineering-related fields. She has provided dozens of reference letters in support of job promotions and written more than 100 nominations for the 3M Circle of Technical Excellence and Innovation Award with 34 winning nominations. She has supported young women professors by sponsoring 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Grant Awards. Dr. Ylitalo is a hands-on mentor for collegiate women, many of whom have graduated from top universities. She ensures their college success by remaining in contact, sending care packages, helping negotiate financial aid, and assisting with scholarship applications.

She co-founded the 3M Young Scientist Challenge program, where she has mentored more than 12 finalists. Dr. Ylitalo volunteers as the adult-in-charge accompanying young women student finalists attending the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). While at ISEF, she volunteers as an Arabic language interpreter. Dr. Ylitalo successfully helped more than 20 students who became ISEF finalists.

Outside of work, Dr. Ylitalo is a dedicated community leader. A board member of the Twin Cities Regional Science Fair, she secured funding that doubled participation of inner-city students, many of them girls, minorities, and refugees. She is also chapter president of the Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief and an alumni interviewer for the Stanford University Outreach Volunteer Alumni Link. She coaches middle school science and math academic teams and is a regular volunteer for multiple 3M science outreach programs.

Dr. Ylitalo is an active participant in the Target Corporation’s Target Women in Science and Technology (TWIST) competition, whose mission is to foster connections, inspiration, and knowledge-sharing to help women in STEM grow to their full potential. She nominates several high school girls each year, three of whom recently earned TWIST awards.

A prolific inventor, Dr. Ylitalo has filed more than 120 patents with 60 issued to date. She has co-authored 17 scientific publications and served as a peer reviewer for three academic journals. She is a five-time recipient of the 3M Circle of Technical Excellence and Innovation Award, the 3Mgives Volunteer Award, and the SWE Global Team Leadership Award.

Dr. Ylitalo holds a B.S. in chemical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Stanford University.

Dr. Ylitalo is married with two sons. Husband David is R&D vice president at 3M company. The older son recently received a doctorate from Caltech and works as a machine learning scientist at a Silicon Valley startup. Her younger son lives in Taiwan and works for Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. She enjoys singing with her church choir, playing the piano, and cooking Armenian food.