Exploring the polymer science of ice-cream

As part of our regular programme of seminars, we sometimes welcome back graduates from our courses to give an update on their careers in chemistry. PhD student Mike Harris provided this report on a student who's applying his polymer science expertise to the production of ice-cream.

Dr Liam Ratcliffe is a graduate of the Department of Chemistry and currently a product scientist at Unilever. He visited us to speak as part of the seminar series run by our EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Polymers, Soft Matter and Colloids.

During his talk, Liam explained the link between his previous studies on polymerisation-induced self-assembly of polymers (PISA) and the formulation science behind making ice-cream.

In his time at Sheffield, he completed our MChem with Study in Industry course, which allowed him to spend a year working at Endeavor, researching product deployment. He then stayed here to study for a PhD in colloid science under the supervision of Professor Steve Armes – with an industrial sponsorship from Scott Bader.

He continued his research career by undertaking a post-doctoral position with Steve, this time focusing on the use of PISA. An example of PISA would be a water-insoluble polymer grown from one end of a water-soluble polymer in aqueous solution.

The growing hydrophobic chain will lead to self-assembly, forming copolymer nanoparticles of tunable size and shape. In total, Liam's research has merited a staggering 13 publications so far.

Liam made the most of his PhD, becoming the chair of the Chemistry Society, and also taking a seat on the safety committee. Since starting at Unilever, he's worked on a variety of products – specifically in the food and refreshment industry.

This has involved working with both beverages and ice creams that fall under the Unilever brand, including a lot of famous names like Magnum and Lipton! His move into industry allowed him to continue working in a scientific environment, but with an increased project management role.

Overall, Liam stated that his PhD provided him with the opportunity to apply his scientific knowledge and his wide-variety of skills into a new and fast-paced environment that has allowed him to thrive after university.

Ice cream

Cropped version of Liam ratcliffe's photo

Without a doubt I would not have been able to obtain my current role without the qualifications, transferable skills and network I developed at Sheffield.

Liam Ratcliffe

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