Unilever Research & Development Port Sunlight, England

Chemical Landmark plaque for Unilever

Unilever Research Laboratory, Port Sunlight

Unilever Research Laboratory, Port Sunlight, by Donald Farnworth. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

The presentation took place in the Unilever Port Sunlight Research and Development Laboratory on Wednesday 30 March 2011, to mark the centenary of their first R & D laboratory. After a buffet lunch, guests and research workers assembled in the main hall, and three speeches preceded the presentation.

Dr Mike Parkington, the Laboratory Director, said that this event celebrated one hundred years of the first purpose-built R & D laboratory at Port Sunlight. The original structure (the ‘Flatiron’ building), though much changed inside, is still in use and was built by William Hesketh-Lever (1851-1925, first Viscount Leverhulme) in 1911. There are some 750 R&D workers at Port Sunlight, including 200 PhD employees, constituting an international workforce. Many well-known Unilever brands, particularly detergents, soaps, hygiene and hair-care products were developed there. Professor Geneviève Beaver, the Chief R&D Officer, said that some 2 billion people worldwide used Unilever products. There is a considerable challenge for the firm to optimise existing products and develop new ones; research facilities were second to none in the laboratories with cutting-edge facilities.

Professor Paul O’Brien, Vice-President of the RSC and Professor of Inorganic Materials at Manchester University, thanked Unilever for hosting the event. The RSC Chemical Landmark Scheme was first introduced in 2001 and officially recognises historical sites in the UK where a significant chemical discovery or research has taken place. In this International Year of Chemistry 2011 several plaques will be awarded in recognition of the importance of chemistry and the chemical sciences in meeting the challenges of every-day life. There are currently over 47,000 RSC members and the thirty-five Local Sections in the UK are encouraged to nominate historical sites for awards.

Paul thanked the Liverpool Local Section which started the nomination process for the Unilever Laboratory in 2007. The RSC had collaborated with Unilever in significant projects in recent years, including: their sponsorship of the RSC Team work in Innovation award given to reward and promote innovation and creativity, and a joint collaboration called Project Splash in 2008, aimed at addressing water management in peri-urban communities. Unilever also supports the Pan Africa Chemistry Network by attending conferences and providing keynote speakers.

Paul then handed over the plaque to Dr. Parkington and Prof. Beaver, and Dr. Parkington formally thanked Paul and the RSC. There was then a brief tour of two research facilities in the building, one concerned with the development and use of hair-care products and the other on the development of soaps and hygiene materials.

By 15.00 the plaque had been affixed to the building and was unveiled by Paul O’Brien and Mike Parkington. It reads:

Unilever Research & Development Port Sunlight Laboratory. In recognition of the outstanding scientific contribution to the fast moving consumer goods industry made by Unilever Port Sunlight’s laboratory since 1911. One hundred years on, the people on site continue to deliver innovative products to enhance the lives of billions of consumers around the world.
30 March 2011
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About Bill Griffith

Professor William (Bill) Griffith is Secretary of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) Historical Group. Griffith was formerly at Imperial College, having graduated from the place many years ago and working for Professor Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson on metal nitrosyl complexes. He then went to Chicago and then Stanford to work with Henry Taube, so he's one of the few people who can claim to have worked for two Nobel Laureates. He has also worked abroad as a visiting lecturer / professor at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver; ETH Zurich; University of Natal, Durban; and the University of Auckland.