Monday, August 10, 2020

Surfactants and Detergents Division Distinguished Service Award Winner Feature – Dr. Phillip Vinson

Q&A with Dr. Phillip Vinson, winner of the Surfactants and Detergents Division Distinguished Service Award

A brief bio: I am a Research Fellow at Procter & Gamble's Fabric & Home Care Innovation Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I lead the Surfactant Innovation Technical Strategy for the Fabric & Home Care business.  I joined P&G in 1990 after receiving my Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Minnesota, where I studied surfactants and their microstructure using cryogenic transmission electron microscopy.  I received my BS in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University.  I am currently on the Editorial Advisory Board for the Journal of Surfactants and Detergents and was previously an Associate Editor for the Journal.

I have several technical publications and over 70 granted US patents that have had an impact across all of P&G's laundry detergent forms, hand dishwashing liquids, fabric softeners, and several surface care products.

1) How did it feel to win the Surfactants and Detergents Division Distinguished Service Award?

I felt both honored and delighted.  I have known and admired past recipients of this award, both for their service to AOCS and for their contributions to the science of surfactants and detergents.  It is truly an honor to be recognized as a member of this esteemed group.

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

I got my start during my Ph.D. research in Chemical Engineering at the University of Minnesota.  I was fortunate to have two amazing advisors at Minnesota, Professors Skip (L.E.) Scriven and Ted Davis.  My research was in their Enhanced Oil Recovery group (called the “Low Tension Group” for low interfacial tensions), where understanding surfactant and polymer physical properties with water and oil, phase behavior, microstructure formation and rheology are critical.  My focus was the study of surfactant and polymer microstructures using cryogenic transmission electron microscopy techniques.

At Procter & Gamble, I have been able to apply and build upon what I learned in graduate school to design better surfactants and surfactant-based detergent formulations.  This is especially important for Fabric and Home Care applications, where surfactants are the core component of many consumer products.

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

I came to P&G with a strong academic foundation in surfactants and colloid science.  This foundation was a tremendous help to quickly learn the many aspects of formulation, mechanisms of cleaning, etc. that are critical to a successful detergent product.  However, as a Chemical Engineer moving into a surfactant design and development role early in my career, my biggest gap was in my knowledge of the upstream industrial supply chain of feedstocks and associated synthesis and chemical transformations.  

Fortunately, over many years I was able to fill this gap by learning from experienced synthetic chemists at P&G and through external collaborations and interactions I have had with feedstock and surfactant suppliers.  That said, learning in this space is a journey where I continue to upskill my knowledge, both with fossil fuel-based materials and with the many new approaches being developed to provide renewable alternatives and increasingly circular options.

4) 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?

Lessons learned from my journey:

1. Own your future.  Master the science to become a recognized expert in your technical domain and use your expertise to deliver successes and build credibility.  As you build credibility, you can take on increasing levels of leadership in creating a vision for what is possible in your domain.
2. Learn how to work well with others and build trusting relationships.  Taking a product to market requires a multi-disciplinary team where team members can rely on each other.  Communication, time management and prioritization skills are key enablers for building trust.
3. Continue to upskill, because the skills required to be successful tomorrow will be different than the skills required today.  Supplement your growing expertise with new tools and capabilities to increase your effectiveness.

5) How has AOCS helped you in your career?

I have been involved with AOCS since the early ’90s. AOCS was important early on and remains so today in building my professional network outside of P&G and providing a source of scientific and practical technical information. The annual meeting has been a great way for me to stay connected with past colleagues, make new connections and connect with many current collaborators within a span of just a few days. AOCS has provided me with opportunities to share my research via technical presentations, and increased my external presence through various roles, such as technical session chair, JSD Associate Editor and JSD Editorial Advisory Board Member.

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