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Creating a breakthrough product

Aisha Nuhu's body butter product

Not many undergraduate students create a breakthrough product while on industrial placement. But Aisha Nuhu achieved exactly that during her industry year with local company Alchemy Ingredients. 

Tasked with creating sustainable, palm oil-free cosmetics, she developed a prototype range that is now being marketed internationally. Of her placement experience, Aisha said: 

“It was a great project to work on – really fun and rewarding.”

Aisha’s enthusiasm is reciprocated by her placement hosts, as Caroline Recardo, Technical Director of Alchemy Ingredients explains:

“We have a long-term relationship with the University of Reading, with permanent staff hailing from there and placement students coming in, who are always excellent.
"What we always find is that Reading students are prepared with the right skills for the project. So the whole scheme really works for us – they can come in and do relevant work for us that needs doing.”

New product development

We have all read the stories about the palm oil threat to primary forests and endangered species. But replacing it completely does not make ecological sense.

Thus organisations such as WWF and Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil are working on making palm oil sustainable. Meanwhile, the search is always on to find viable alternatives. Aisha’s creation is just that.

"Alchemy Ingredients specialises in thickeners and emulsifiers. I basically developed a new oil gelling agent for the company, trade name Sapogel Q, that was palm oil free, fully sustainable and natural.

"It was based on saponins and we believe we're the first to develop a commercial product that uses them as an emulsifier.“

Pivotal support

Aisha pays tribute to Reading’s Placements Team, which supports students throughout their assignment, from regular training sessions and workshops, to one-to-one support.

Having a dedicated Placement Coordinator and tutor helps every step of the way:

“Joanne [Dr Joanne Elliot, Industrial Placements, Careers and Employability Officer], was so helpful in finding the right placement for me. Her support throughout empowered me and boosted my confidence.

"It was great having the CV workshops, along with the regular training sessions and workshops, and of course the one-to-one support."

She also sings the praises of her University tutors, who prepared her to excel on placement:

“My tutors helped me learn that on placement, just believe in yourself and your abilities. It can be daunting as an undergraduate going into industry, especially if you've never had experience in that sector before.

But you can add so much value to the team and the company as a whole; don't be scared to make contributions and suggest new things. The skills learned back at Reading helped instil this confidence.”

Stepping into the real world

Aisha is not alone in her experience of exciting and career-boosting workplace experiences. The University of Reading has a keen focus on placements, which strongly boost CVs and job opportunities for its students.

The Department of Chemistry enjoys excellent relationships with companies such as AstraZeneca, BP, Cytec, DuPont, GSK, Henkel, Johnson Matthey, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Syngenta and Unilever, and places students in first-class industry learning opportunities.

“The Department gets constant requests for Reading students. Alchemy Ingredients wanted another Reading student. They told me that students from Reading are extremely well prepared and professional, which makes the placement attractive from their point of view, too.

"In fact, it was this industry factor that helped me choose the University of Reading in the first place. Reading sits near a hotbed of big industry names and the close link between them and the University is very good news for students!”

Placements like Aisha’s ensure students get that opportunity to put their learning into practice, developing the professional skills employers look for.

As well as their industry work, they are nurtured in workplace and application skills and play an important part in their success.

100% of our Chemistry graduates are in work or further study within six months of graduating (Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey, 2016/17), and we are ranked 4th in England for graduate earning power in the Physical, Material and Forensic Sciences subject area.*

So what advice does Aisha have for prospective chemistry students?

“Believe! Really believe in what you can do. You can do more than you think!”

Learn about our new BSc Chemistry with Cosmetic Science with a Year in Industry degree

*Based on the BBC’s analysis of a report published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies ("The relative labour market returns to different degrees", June 2018). The ranking is based on male graduate data only, as there was not sufficient data for female graduates for all compared degrees.

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