MC Chem-E’s Conduct Research in Professional Cutting Edge Lab

by Samantha Walla, Production Manager

Manhattan College chemical engineering students are being given the upperhand in the cosmetic field after the development of a new lab for graduate students.

Samiul Amin, Ph.D, associate professor of chemical engineering, oversees the cosmetic lab. In 2018, after working over 20 years in Research and Development, or R&D, in the cosmetic industry, Amin joined Manhattan College as a professor.

Formerly an Assistant Vice President at L’Oreal, Amin knew R&D not only for current products, but for the trajectory of the industry within sustainable and green technology. Because of his connections in the industry, Manhattan College has acquired equipment not found in any other university labs, including an automotive formulation platform.

“Some of our equipment exceeds the capabilities of professional cosmetic companies,” Amin said, describing the advantage that Manhattan College students have when looking for jobs. The department has even linked a summer program in which professionals come to the college and participate in a three day training course, part of which includes lab instruction led by students.

Students focusing on cosmetic engineering within the chemical engineering program at Manhattan College learn to operate equipment that most engineers are exposed to on the job as the only university lab with such advanced machinery. JAMES FIORE / THE QUADRANGLE

Aina Davies began her master’s in chemical engineering in the spring of 2019 after earning her bachelor’s degree in Nigeria.

“I got an internship in this oil and gas company, The Department for Petroleum Resources, which is the ministry for every oil company [in Nigeria],” Davies said. “And I think like two weeks in, I was frustrated. I knew I didn’t want to do it. I’ve always been into cosmetics because I’m a makeup artist. I already went to makeup school twice before that. And I was like, ‘Okay, I need to kind of like combine what I know, in chemical engineering and in cosmetics, where can I get that?’”

After a Google search, Manhattan College popped up and Davies decided to attend.

It is Amin’s hope that Manhattan College will continue to draw international students as well as students from MIT, Cornell and Princeton, which are top producers of cosmetic engineers hired by larger companies.

“You have literally anyone who’s anyone in the cosmetic industry in America, and that’s great,” Davies said. “So it’s possible to have a focus in cosmetics as a technical field.”

Coming from a research-heavy undergraduate education, Davies is able to develop hands-on experience in her current project.

“I experienced all the research that goes on on a daily basis, but I also felt like all we did there didn’t necessarily translate into real life,” Davies said. “It’s kind of like, okay, you’re saying all these things, but you’re not necessarily doing it. So what’s the point?” Here, we literally start from scratch. We test everything… It’s one thing for me to say, I made a hair conditioner and it’s thick or it’s not so thick, and I think based on literature it’s going to do XYZ. We’re literally making the formulations, we’re testing the performances, the factors, the properties of everything. We’re having technical data that we can back from literature and from observation and from like the numbers that we’re seeing. So it’s full circle, everything is happening in here.”

Davies has recently published a paper in the International Journal of Preventative Science and is working on a second. The research that Davies is conducting is connecting the consistency of hair conditioner and its performance. In the R&D stage of product development, it is essential to relay consumer expectations to technical terms.

“When you use shampoo on your hair, you say things like, ‘oh, why do I like the shampoo?’ It might be that it foams a lot, it makes my hair bouncy, it makes my hair feel silky… We have to be able to come up with ways to quantify like these terms. What is shine? Literally, shine is light bouncing off your hair. So we have to give the formulation optical properties,” Davies said.

In addition to sustainability, which is becoming a higher priority for companies when hiring recent graduates.

Christina Raguso, a senior undergraduate chemical engineering student, is currently utilizing the lab to formulate sustainable hair conditioners.

“In class, there is only so much to learn until you actually do it yourself,” Raguso said. “The cosmetic and biopharma lab is a place where students are able to take what we have learned from the classroom and apply it. It is impossible to truly understand formulations until you have hand-on experience.”

Raguso, like Davies, chose to focus on cosmetic engineering due to her love for makeup and skills in math and science, in addition to a recommendation from her grandfather, a Manhattan College alumnus.

“Everything about the industry and what makeup has done for me and my confidence was what drove me to pursue. Along with being able to understand what is being taught in class, the opportunities that come with this lab experience goes outside the walls of Leo and into the hands of huge cosmetic companies,” Raguso said.

“Without hands-on lab and formulation experience, it becomes difficult to land a job in any type of research and development or innovation positions. Having the opportunity to work within the cosmetic lab under Dr. Amin enables students interested in the cosmetic industry to have that much better of a chance to be able to work alongside big companies including L’Oreal and Estee Lauder.”

The automative formulation platform is the centerpiece of the lab, outfitted with nearly a million dollars of equipment that many professional companies do not possess. JAMES FIORE / THE QUADRANGLE

The centerpiece of the lab, an automated formulation deck,  has six reactors that run simultaneously and independently of each other. The machine prioritizes mass customization and sustainability, which speak to the rapid developments in cosmetic development that continue to change the industry.

“The frequency of people looking to use new products is literally increasing. So you need to be able to make products as quickly as the consumers hunger for it is increasing,” Davies said. “By hand is no longer the answer, like it’s no longer going to be enough because you want something that can literally overnight, formulate 6000 batches for you and they’re out to market the next day.”

She continued.

“The robot is literally the future. I don’t think it’s a trend. My first paper is very heavy on like, automated formulation and how a lot of companies should invest in it. And a lot of companies are really investing because the cosmetic industry, funny enough, prepares for trends really quietly. So it’s kind of like, everybody’s crazy about sustainability right now, but it’s not exactly making all the big bucks. Companies will acquire this technology and expertise and then when the trend blows up, they are right on track.”

The opportunity for Manhattan College students to not only experience working with this technology, but to become leaders within these advancements, puts them at a level that no other university graduates achieve.

“My vision when it comes to cosmetic engineering is for Manhattan College to be internationally recognized,” Amin said. “Manhattan College students are hardworking, resilient and have a lot of grit. It’s all down to the students who are helping me build this program.”