The NEPIC (North East of England Process Industry Cluster) Annual Industry Awards are a fantastic celebration of company and individual achievements across the chemical industry in North East England.

This year, our ninth year sponsoring the event, was made even more special by seeing Adam Cullen, Senior Research Scientist at our Wilton site in the UK, scoop the prestigious Young Achiever award for commodity and petrochemicals.

We spoke to Adam about growing up in South Africa, the first steps in his career and the progress he’s made at Lucite International (LI).

Tell us about your introduction to chemistry in South Africa.

“I grew up in a small steel and mining town called Middelburg. I was drawn to chemistry by an enthusiastic science teacher who brought the subject to life for myself and most of the other students in the classroom.

“After high school, I completed my undergraduate Chemistry degree (honours, cum laude) at the University of Johannesburg, finishing top of my class. I then went on to do a PhD in Lewis acid catalysed organic chemistry at the same University, graduating in 2012.

“My first role in industry was with South Africa’s largest chemical company, SASOL, where I worked as a catalyst researcher in their Fischer-Tropsch research group.”

And then, a few years later, you made the switch to the UK…

“In Autumn 2015, my application for a research scientist role at LI was successful and I made the move to the UK – without fully realising how cold and dark the winters are!

“My initial role involved research into LI’s Stage 2 Alpha catalyst and saw me doing a fair amount of lab-based catalyst preparation. The Alpha team had understood for a while that a structure activity relationship existed in the Alpha catalyst formulation and my first task was to demonstrate this on model systems.

“In doing so, we were able to file a new Alpha catalyst patent potentially protecting LI’s Alpha catalyst technology for a further 20 years. This has also allowed for the rational design of improved catalyst formulations which are able to achieve higher reaction selectivities.”

How did your role and responsibilities evolve with us?

“Although my initial role was largely lab-based, I have now progressed to a technical lead role on a project to deliver LI’s next generation of Alpha catalyst. This entails oversight of catalyst development activities within LI as well as engagement with external parties who provide advanced catalyst characterisation or manufacturing expertise. I also have a lot of engagement with the engineering team within the strategic projects group.”

Congratulations on collecting the Young Achiever award! How do you feel about it?

“It was an honour to receive the award and a good feeling to represent LI on the awards evening. That being said, I do not think I would be where I am now were it not for the contributions of others along my career path.”

Looking to the future, what sort of goals do you have?

“My immediate goal is to see the next generation of Alpha catalyst commercialised. In the medium to longer term, I can see myself moving out of catalyst development and gaining different experience. It is always an interesting and sometimes tough experience to start out at the bottom of the learning curve.”