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Building Bridges From The Lab

by Marc S. Reisch
July 24, 2006 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 84, ISSUE 30

Credit: Rhodia
Credit: Rhodia


Paul-Joël Derian says his job is to help build bridges. As Rhodia's vice president of R&D, he came to Bristol, Pa., last month to take part in the ribbon cutting for Rhodia's new North American Research & Technical Center.

Derian, 43, originally set up Rhodia's North American research center in Cranbury, N.J., seven years ago. He served as the first director of the center, which today supports the company's Novecare surfactants and rheology modification business, before heading off for other jobs.

The new Bristol center, just north of Philadelphia, is part of a network of five Rhodia R&D facilities. The network has an annual budget of $185 million and also has sites in Lyon and Aubervilliers, France; Paulina, Brazil; and Shanghai, China.

Before moving to Bristol, the lab in Cranbury was on the same site as Rhodia's North American headquarters. Although R&D and marketing people could work together easily, the center "was not organized for the future," Derian says. About two years ago, Rhodia decided that "we needed to refurbish or move."

Rhodia found a former Rohm and Haas research facility in Bristol, 40 minutes south of Cranbury, that was "just what we needed," Derian says. The building had been empty since 2002, when Rohm and Haas moved its plastic additives and analytical research units into other labs on its corporate research campus in Springhouse, Pa. Built in 1995, the facility has 71,000 sq ft of lab space and enough office and meeting space to encourage collaboration among the 100 scientists and technicians that Rhodia moved to the location.

Derian says the headquarters and lab are close enough that Rhodia's marketing and R&D people can easily meet at one location or the other. Another attraction was Bristol's proximity to the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, in Philadelphia. Rhodia likes to undertake cooperative work with academicians so that it can "tap into academic work and bring it into the 'real' world more quickly," he says.

Derian, who has a Ph.D. in physics from the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, helped form Rhodia's "Laboratory of the Future" in 2004. Launched with the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Université Bordeaux 1, the lab brings Rhodia scientists together with Ph.D. and postdoctoral students. They are working together to advance microfluidics, high-throughput research, and data management techniques at a technology park in Bordeaux, France.

The Bristol lab houses a complex fluids and surface sciences lab, also in cooperation with CNRS. And, Derian says, Rhodia hopes to sponsor a materials science lab in Lyon, France, with an as-yet-unnamed academic partner.


"We want to adapt our culture to welcome academicians and still allow them to receive the respect of their peers," he says. And by bridging the gap with the academic community, Rhodia hopes its scientists will "tap into the reservoir of academic knowledge and connect it to products that we can commercialize and market to customers today and not 20 years from now," Derian says.



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