Date: March 31, 2014

ColgateCo op v2Rutgers University Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department undergraduates Shiri Nawrocki and Scott Smart are getting first-hand experience as research scientists through an innovative co-op program at nearby Colgate-Palmolive Company. In the process, both students are partnering with chemists on discoveries that could significantly influence the future of consumer products.

“Working at Colgate-Palmolive has truly been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, and I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity,” said Nawrocki, a 19-year-old sophomore from Tenafly. “The knowledge I have gained while working at Colgate-Palmolive is beyond anything I ever expected and I’ve only been part of the co-op program for 7 months. I used to be so nervous in my lab courses at school, but since I started working at the company, my confidence in the lab has significantly increased.”

In her short time at Colgate, Nawrocki has worked with a Colgate team to partner on two patent applications. Smart, a 21-year-old junior who has been in the company’s co-op program for 18 months, recently published his first author cover paper with other co-authors in the prestigious journal, Chemical Communications. Nawrocki and Smart work with Long Pan, Ph.D., a Rutgers alumnus and manager in Colgate’s Piscataway Technology Center, which borders the Busch Campus.

“Since 2007, I have supervised about 20 undergrads to work on more than 10 different projects,” said Pan, a scientist focusing on fundamental research to understand how to enhance the efficacy of personal care products. “The students from Rutgers who work with us are actively involved in every step of research and development. The new breakthroughs not only help our company maintain a leading position in the market, but also foster a training environment for students to learn how to create new ideas and how to turn these ideas into usable products. I train the students who work at Colgate to become independent research scientists.”

Pan noted that Rutgers students at Colgate have been involved in numerous patent applications, invention records and many outside publications. Four of the students were hired for permanent positions at Colgate and several entered doctorate programs.

Like most of the students who enter the co-op program, Smart had no experience in research.

“In my interview, Long Pan and the other group members asked me if I was interested in looking at fundamental problems within the field, not just formulations or simple lab work,” recalled Smart, a native of Austin, Texas, who moved to Boston three years ago. “I said yes, and since then, the projects I have been working on are often generated with Long or with the other Colgate scientists, but then are practically carried out through my own investigations. Through this approach and the continual guidance and support at Colgate, particularly Long, I have been able to experience what research is, and also have grown as a researcher, and as a professional and a person, while being able to contribute something worthwhile to Colgate.”

Pan noted that the paper co-authored with Smart has “received high praise from reviewers. The broad potential applications of this work are truly remarkable. Scott has learned a great deal professionally and picked up a wide range of skill sets that will hopefully help his future career development. The next step for this research is to implement the work into practical applications.”

The Colgate co-op program allows students to learn how to conduct research at a consumer products company, develop a new product from inception, implement the concept, create prototype products, and finally commercialize the products. By engaging the students at every step of the commercialization process from idea generation to product creation, Colgate hopes that the students will become genuinely interested in their work and perhaps become permanent employees.

“I train students one on one, as I believe each student has a unique potential,” Pan said. “I set very high standards for the students, by telling them that they should act as independent research scientists rather than those who are simply doing routine work at a lab. The students are participating in creating new ideas, filing patent applications and publishing their own work in international journals. In the beginning, these undergrads don’t believe they are capable of doing any of the above. In the end, many of these students have patents and publications.”

The experience has helped Smart refine his research interests.

“Currently, I am interested in inorganic mechanistic studies,” Smart said. “Theoretical studies and trying to obtain a more fundamental understanding of things is something that appeals to me, and I believe the breadth of this area would make it worthwhile to study. I would definitely recommend the Colgate co-op program to other students. I have yet to see or hear of an opportunity that provides a place to grow as much as at Colgate. In addition, it grants valuable industry experience.”

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