Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Samuel Rosen Memorial Award Feature - Jean-Louis Salager

A Q&A with Jean-Louis Salager, the winner of the Samuel Rosen Memorial Award

A brief bio: Professor Jean-Louis Salager earned a BS in Chemistry from University of Nancy-France and a degree in Chemical Engineering from ENSIC France, an MSc. PhD and Postdoc from University of Texas at Austin USA. He is the founder and former director of the Laboratory of Formulation, Interfaces, Rheology and Processes (FIRP), an applied research center that has been around for 40 years at University of The Andes, Mérida, Venezuela, with over 20 faculty members from Chemical Engineering, Chemistry and Pharmacy.  

Professor Salager has been teaching at University of The Andes (Mérida, Venezuela) since 1970, where he founded the School of Chemical Engineering and the graduate program in Process Engineering, and where he is now Emeritus Professor. He is also a consultant and instructor in formulation engineering for petroleum, food, paint, cosmetic and personal care products. He has given 250 courses mostly for industry people in 14 countries.

Professor Salager has published 20 book chapters and is (co)author of 7 patents and over 250 scientific papers on formulation of surfactant systems, micro-, macro, and nano-emulsions and foams for various applications. He has been the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Surfactants and Detergents (AOCS) and the Regional Editor for Latin America of the Journal of Dispersion Science and Technology (previously Marcel Dekker, USA, now Taylor and Francis, UK). He has been a guest editor of “Emulsion Science and Engineering – A tribute to Paul Becher”, which is a special three-volume book with 34 articles and 450 pages, published by Marcel Dekker.

At the end of his more than 30-year university-industry career, he was offered four top awards in Venezuela: The Simón Bolivar Academic Accomplishment (FAPUV 1997) highest academic award in Venezuela; the National Scientific Prize in Technological Research (CONICIT 1997) highest scientific award in Venezuela, presented by the President of the country; the annual Award for the Best Technological Research (FUNDACITE 2002); the Annual Prize in Chemistry of the Venezuelan Academy of Physical, Mathematical and Natural Sciences (2003).

Among his international distinctions, he was listed in Marquis’ Who is Who in the World (1999) and was elected a member of the Latin America Academy of Sciences (2002). He was ranked by the Google Scholar Profile as the #2 top scientist living in Venezuela with a Hirsch index of 56 and 11,000 citations. 

1) How did it feel to win the Samuel Rosen Memorial Award? 

I cannot say I was very surprised because I knew that AOCS recognizes the contribution of its members … in many ways. Actually, I knew I had been proposed last year by well-known scientists. When I learned I had won the Rosen award this year, I felt happy and satisfied for that, as a result of having tried for years to help AOCS to be better known as a scientific association with a strong industrial connection and useful practical journals, in opposition to the excessive use of fundamental publications carried out by other scientific associations. I knew that my efforts and longtime dedication as editor in chief have helped the JSD to survive and that my Lab FIRP group has been invited by AOCS to present useful talks and to publish understandable and efficient papers for the industry. We have been careful in our submissions to JSD. As far as our interfacial rheology, completely new concepts are concerned. Our first practical paper was sent to JSD before the fundamental second one of a series, which was sent to Langmuir, a very famous American Chemical Society Journal.

Additionally, I should also say that I received my nomination as the first non-USA citizen to be a journal Editor-in-Chief as a considerable recognition of my previous work, given AOCS’ worldwide position in the industry. 

Of course, I must say that I consider the Samuel Rosen Award a top, industry-related prize compared to other recognition I have received in the past years from governments, universities and specific industries, and I felt quite honored receiving this exceptional distinction from a top world association from industry people like AOCS.

2) How did you get started in the field that you are studying or working in?

As far as my current specialty is concerned, in 1973 the petroleum was sold at about $3 USD/Bbl, and the world main producer (Saudi Arabia) decided to considerably reduce its production to trigger a world shortage and to motivate an increase of the price. From 1974 to 75, the reduced importations of crude oil in the US resulted in queues at the gasoline service stations and the increase in selling smaller cars with lower consumption. The petroleum reserves with the current technology and prices at this time were said to be less than 20 years and with a final oil recovery of only 20-25% of the original oil in place. This situation resulted in a steady increase in world petroleum prices, which attained a price of more than $30 USD/Bbl at the end of the 1970s. For the US and other petroleum producers, the likely solution in the mid-1970s was to increase production by using an improved technology called Enhanced Oil Recovery EOR, which could be developed with the price increase. Thanks to my previous work with petroleum in France and Venezuela, and a rapid and successful MSc in USA, I was offered a grant to enter a new R&D group at University of Texas which was strongly sponsored by industry and government agencies.

3) What do you consider your major accomplishments from your career?

I would say I have seven major accomplishments from my career corresponding to the creation of an R&D lab with both academic and industry features and the creation and development of six innovative subjects over 40 years: (1) Surfactant Affinity Difference SAD equation and then (2) Hydrophilic-Lipophilic Deviation HLD for minimum tension, (3) Mixing surfactants, (4) Lipophilic linker, (5) Extended surfactant, (6) Minimum of the interfacial dilational viscosity at optimum formulation.
The first thing was that I started a Research-Development laboratory (FIRP) with a double activity. First, the usual academic work in a university laboratory doing fundamental research on surfactant science through different types of thesis: half of the fifth year of an undergraduate bachelor degree, the typical Master (1.5 years) and PhD (3 years), and one to two year post-doc positions for visiting researchers. 

Since 1978, our laboratory, with about 20 professors-researchers, supervised about 100 theses, 60 of them MS and PhD students. From this R&D we produced about 700 publications, among them the edition of a book, 30 book chapters, 350 articles and 250 conferences. My name was on about 2/3 of these publications. 

See in Spanish and in English.

Our publication list can be viewed at  

The second activity was to carry out a great deal of scientific and technical work for industrial companies through contracts to resolve practical problems and to teach specific courses dedicated not only to knowledge but also to know-how. In the past 40 years, we had 60 contracts not only with oil companies buy also with industries making surfactants, and producing detergents and other cleaners, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, food products, paints, etc. Most of this work was not divulged in articles (only 10-15%) but in private and confidential reports. Some results were partially divulgated in patents, sometimes with our participation as coauthor. 

An important part of this work was the private formation of scientific researchers in the industry within specific intensive 3 to 4-day programs, often followed by one day of consulting. In the past 30 years, I have given or participated in 250 formations in 14 countries. This second activity had to be co-organized together with the first one and was the principal source of the financing of all the laboratory work including the academic. In recent years, this second type of activity has increased and currently represents about 2/3 of our work with most of our industrial customers out of Venezuela. 

As far as specific innovations are concerned, the first one started in my PhD in Texas and subsequent work in Venezuela (1975-1980), i.e., the multivariable formulation concept, called the SAD ¬— "Surfactant Affinity Difference" including the surfactant characteristics, the co-surfactant content, the oil type, the brine salinity, the temperature), i.e. six variables … instead of 2 in the previous HLB work by other people.  Then started to develop with R. Anton the formulation for mixing different surfactants to attain various new properties like insensibility to temperature (1987-88). A completely new innovation was to introduced the "Lipophilic Linker" concept in partnership with A. Graciaa group in France (1993) and the new "Extended surfactants design" was created in partnership with M. Miñana-Perez during a doctorate, done, partially, in France thanks to a cooperation program (1994-96). 

I, then, introduced the more fundamental continuation of the SAD which was called the "HLD or hydrophilic-lipophilic deviation" (2000-2005) which was systematically applied to the optimum formulation of surfactant-oil-water systems to attain low interfacial tension for enhanced oil recovery (with a prize from Journal Surfactants and Detergents in 2015), very low emulsion stability for petroleum dehydration (with the best paper prize in Energy & Fuels in 2016), and special emulsion properties for cosmetic, pharmaceutical and food products. 

From 2014 to 2017, I developed in my lab. with R. Marquez, a new apparatus called the spinning drop interfacial rheometer, which allowed for the first time in the world to measurement interfacial dilational viscosity at optimum formulation and its ground-breaking relationship with emulsion breaking (winning another prize of the best paper of the year from the Journal of Surfactants and Detergents in 2019).

4) Can you tell us more about your current research?

So, my applied research activities started in 1975 at University of Texas at Austin with Professors R. Schechter &  W. Wade who were building one of the first R&D groups on enhanced oil recovery with a strong target at resolving very complex problems with a practical approach. After my PhD and postdoc in the USA, I was invited to return to the Chemical Engineering School I had founded in Venezuela to create a large R&D group able to carry out a unique synergy with innovative academic understanding and efficient practical know-how. This involved working as both a university research group, producing graduate theses and fundamental papers, and as an industrial center, reaching efficient solutions without divulging, except for patents. 

It may be said that in general, these two simultaneous approaches were in opposition to one another and had conflicting interests that could not be resolved. My main contribution was to negotiate with people in the university, government and industry. The selection of new formulation issues in enhanced oil recovery and the increase in petroleum prices in the 1970s provided incentives to reduce the usual incompatibilities.  However, it was necessary to advance efficiently with both the overall understanding and the research’s applications. Having parallel work on simple phenomena to create fundamental knowledge (producing thesis and publications) and real cases to generate practical know-how (producing profits to finance the lab work) were at the core of this endeavor.

With the help of up to 40 people at Lab FIRP (first, it was Interfacial Phenomena and Enhanced Oil Recovery in Spanish then Formulation, Interfaces, Rheology and Processes in Spanish, English and French) and 40 more in associated laboratories in North/South America and Europe, the concept of optimum formulation was generalized from different techniques used since 1950. My new laboratory team contributed to show that in such formulations, a very low interfacial tension was attained, the phase inversion occurs, the emulsion was inverted, the microemulsion solubilization was maximum, the emulsion stability was at a minimum and the interfacial rheology was practically nonexistent. 

My very significant contribution was to find a numerical equation between six formulation variables to reach an optimum formulation in surfactant-oil-water systems at a given temperature and pressure. This equation allows the prediction of efficient cases for applications without making thousands of measurements, thus reducing the time to get a solution in very different surfactant-oil-water systems such as in petroleum recovery, emulsion breaking, food emulsion, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, inks and paints, cleaning products, etc.

In the past 20 years, about 10 other R&D groups in North/South America, Europe and Asia started to use the Lab FIRP basic understanding and know-how and contribute with us to advance with fundamentals issues and in practical solutions in more complex cases. 

Our current lab follows specific R&D, not only in EOR but also in lignin surfactants use, petroleum dehydration, foods containing water and oil, residual emulsion breaking, creams for cosmetic and medical treatment of skin. 

For more information, visit or

5) What challenges have you overcome during your course of study or your career?

I completed both a BS in chemistry, later pursue R&D at a university, and studied to become a Chemical Engineer and work in an industrial research center to solve problems. My PhD was from the start of working on a new concept (Enhanced Oil Recovery) by injecting surfactant into a crude oil reservoir. The challenge was to create a mixture of new formulation with aspects applied to a practical case with six variables, i.e. too many to be screened in a doctorate R&D. The challenge was met by gathering the variables in a generalized formulation correlation which could describe the physicochemical properties with the temperature and pressure in a relatively simple three-dimensional way rendering the effect of eight variables on many phenomena like the oil-water interfacial tension, the phase behavior, the solubilization, the interfacial rheology, the emulsion type and principal properties (stability, drop size, viscosity). My work helped in building not only knowledge but also know-how for about 10 university researchers from MSc to PhD, postdocs and professors at UT, as well as about 10 other R&D people in industry, to organize their work toward the building of new results. My last year as a postdoc, I helped several industrial researchers integrate their formation and studies to the UT group and to transfer the advances to their companies.

The challenge was to help the cooperation between two areas generally working with different approaches and different urgencies, i.e. a university scientific high-level knowledge and understanding with an industrial practical and effective know-how.

6) What advice can you share on how you have achieved success thus far in your career, whether that be entering a graduate program or a lengthy career in a prestigious position?

With the mind of both a scientist and an engineer, and concerned about new knowledge and new know-how, I try to learn and understand as much as possible but also save time and money to reach reasonable results in practice. This implies simplifying R&D methods and making them more efficient and innovative by optimizing between various conflicting aspects that make collaboration between university and industry difficult. This requires determining the R&D program asking the scientific questions whose answers will solve practical problems, with some fundamental aspects that could produce theses for university degrees and publications but whose practical results will be kept undivulged while producing benefits. 

This strategy often requires organizing parallel studies with same goals but different applications, for instance, a fundamental research program with pure ethoxylated alcohol and pure n-hexane or n-octane, and a real case with a commercial petroleum sulfonate and crude oil, or a detergent with greasy dirt from the kitchen containing natural fats. If the same R&D question/answer program can be carried out with fundamental and applied cases, it is possible to satisfy both the academic and industry expectations. The experience shows that the management of such duplicated creativity requires a large group of researchers (20-30), with academic and industry experience, constant communication and negotiation, and the ability of a leader to motivate a synergy rather than accumulate conflicts. The usual competition between researchers working in the same group should be substituted by a clear advantage generally described as an equation 1+1=3 as far as the production and benefit is concerned.

7) How has AOCS helped you in your career?

I really got to know AOCS when it started to publish the JSD as an independent journal in the late 90s. The FIRP lab published in JSD in its inaugural year (1998) a practical paper on optimization of a lipophilic linker, a new finding which had been retained from divulgation for 5 years by the confidentiality agreed in an industrial contract. Our lab FIRP was in contact with R&D people at the University of Oklahoma at Norman and with some surfactant manufacturers in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s and this helps us to approach the AOCS team. 

My AOCS Membership also helped us to make presentations at congresses and to write more adapted publications, which often resulted in favorable contacts with worldwide industrial companies and discussion to realize practical contracts with them. I would say that a fair part of the more than 250 courses/advise short activities I have helped to develop in 14 countries over the past 25 years have come to fruition thanks to AOCS congresses or publications. So, it may be said that AOCS made me more efficient in my teaching work at a nonconventional level of collaboration from university to industry.

As an Editor-in-Chief of JSD for a few years, I have also learned how to maximize a publication’s effect according to the most attractive purpose of such article in different cases: an easy understanding of complex things, a useful way of learning practical know-how and how to use fundamental knowledge to create useful tutorials.

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