A hundred years ago, William Lever built his first soap factory near Liverpool in a place he called Port Sunlight. Today, Unilever R&D Port Sunlight is the source of many of our most successful products for home and personal care.
A global centre
Over 700 scientists and engineers – from various backgrounds and nationalities – work here to create innovative products for consumers around the world. The global brands our teams contribute to include Dove, Sunsilk, Lynx / Axe, Cif, Persil / Omo and Domestos. Each year this work results in over 100 patent filing and approximately 140 peer-reviewed papers and conference presentations.
We achieve much of our success by working across a network of Unilever R&D centres. Scientists at R&D Port Sunlight work daily with Unilever colleagues from São Paolo to Shanghai. This will sometimes include travel overseas to give our scientists the opportunity to network with colleagues and learn more about consumers with very different lifestyles to their own.
Our science bases
Although we are focused here on home and personal care brands, Port Sunlight scientists share a common science base with Unilever’s Foods R&D and Corporate Research teams. All three R&D teams work regularly with academic and third-party collaborators with the aim of ensuring that Unilever scientists are connected with the very best and most up-to-date scientific thinking.
The majority of the staff at Unilever R&D Port Sunlight have a first degree in a science subject, typically the physical or biological sciences. Those with skills in the biological sciences work on continuously improving our understanding of skin, hair and teeth and how our products can help influence their condition. They also study the interaction of our products with bacteria found on surfaces including the mouth, underarm, scalp, kitchen worktops, and bathroom fittings.
The physical sciences are applied in every part of the research and development programme. For example physical chemists use their expertise in colloid science to improve the cleaning efficacy look and feel of our products. Synthetic chemists have the task of making new ingredients to deliver improved functionality to our products, whilst chemists with an engineering specialism work to make our products more effective and efficient.
...& human sciences
The human sciences also play a part. Psychologists, social scientists, and experts in cognitive neuroscience form another important team - Consumer Science Insight - whose role is to investigate how a consumer's 'need' or 'desire' translates into a product. What does it really mean in scientific terms to have shiny hair? When consumers say they want thick bleach – what do they really mean? If you change the packaging of a deodorant can you predict how consumers rate the product? In short, how can we create products that do their job and enhance the consumer experience.
Everyone works in multi-disciplinary projects. For example a laundry project might have as its objective a new clothes washing liquid which keeps clothes looking newer for longer. The project team would combine the expertise of synthetic chemists to prepare or source new ingredients, formulators to study the interaction of the new ingredients with the base formulation and to test for efficacy and storage stability, and chemical engineers to work on incorporation of the new ingredient into a manufacturing process. Alternatively a hair research project might wish to understand how to give consumers in South East Asia the shiny and soft straight hair they desire from a shampoo.