Dark horses in the laboratory

Winner team of the Urban Living Idea Contest (from left to right): Scott Shuai, Jerry Shen, Shushu Ding, Dr. Parag Kulkani, Lucy Cai and Adam Lu.

An invitation letter from Germany at the end of last year still lies in Adam’s email box. Along with his teammates, Adam was invited by BASF’s top management to attend the final pitch for the Urban Living Idea Contest in Ludwigshafen, the company headquarters in Germany.

The contest was a co-creation program launched by BASF during its 150th anniversary year, where employees around the world were encouraged to submit creative ideas on the topics of “air, transport and water”. After a round of voting, followed by idea selections by a panel of experts, 10 teams qualified for the final pitch wherein they would present their ideas directly to the jury composed of the BASF board of executive directors and Presidents.

The idea proposal of “how to save water during washing”, submitted by Adam and his team members, stood out among the 142 ideas collected globally. On the stage during the final pitch, they were the youngest team on the day. Their idea, however, was recognized and appreciated by the audience, winning not only the highest honor but also the financial sponsorship to implement their project.

The team regarded their experience of participating in the celebration of BASF 150th anniversary as an incredible adventure. Their success from “just an abstract idea” to “a dream coming true” may be recorded in the BASF history.

Adam attributed his inspiration to a common experiment conducted during his daily routine. After discussion with Lucy Cai, Scott Shuai and Jerry Shen, who also worked in the Shanghai lab, they hit it off instantly and decided to start preparations of the proposal for the Idea Contest.

"The team atmosphere of our lab has always been good. We love to discuss the problems and difficulties during our R&D work," said Jerry. "Others’ directions can often enlighten you."

Encouragement for the project was in abundance. Sébastien Garnier, former Senior Manager Care Materials Research, had greatly encouraged his teams to participate in the Idea Contest from the beginning and supported its further development. He helped the team improve their proposal and the planning of the next step. "We should evaluate the commercial feasibility of the overall business model of this project and technically focus on the product development with a more specific direction," said Sébastien.

After passing the preliminary selection, they immediately involved more colleagues from the Care Chemicals business unit and researchers in Singapore to perfect the proposal. "During the preparation, our close cooperation and communication with colleagues from the business unit provided us lab technicians with the opportunity to get to know first-hand market insights of products. It broadened our horizon and mindset and made our proposal more consistent with the market requirements with more business prospects," Jerry said.

"We were like dark horses in the lab," Adam said of the win. "We are certainly lucky, but I believe it is not pure luck. We studied relevant documents and made great efforts after our daily routine work in the lab. Our colleagues from different departments also helped a lot. The award belongs to the whole team."

After Adam and his team won the contest, a busy time began: three workshops took place in Shanghai, Wyandotte and Ludwigshafen to gather ideas on how to save water during washing. "It was amazing how many colleagues worldwide contributed with their ideas and expertise, in order to support Adam and his team", said Claudia Staudt, Senior Manager Care Materials Research. "Together, with the colleagues from the business unit, we will foster evaluation and clustering of the ideas to enable the team starting with the technical feasibility."

"What I really like about this idea is not how perfect it has been, but the team spirit behind it," said Piyada Charoensirisomboon, Vice President of Innovation Campus Asia Pacific (Shanghai). "These young colleagues are really leveraging our regional research platform to connect with people and get inspired. Their proposal succeeded because of its originality and interdisciplinary collaborations."

In addition to becoming the superstars of the Urban Living Idea Contest, the team, who usually can be found in the labs, actively took part in many of the other activities celebrating BASF’s 150th anniversary.

"Taking part in activities that seem not relevant to our daily work truly benefitted us a lot," said Jerry. Both Adam and Jerry joined the preparations for the Shanghai session of BASF’s Global Science Symposium. "Taking a break from pure product R&D helps us to know other aspects of the industry. This is also an opportunity that BASF gives to young people."

At BASF Creator Space™ science symposium, top scientists and urban designers gathered in Shanghai to share and exchange their latest insights on sustainable urban life. "This is the first time for me to meet so many academic giants. There were even Nobel Prize winners. The spirited discussion provided us with a lot of inspiration," Jerry said. "Interaction among multiple platforms also expanded our connections, which helped us to participate in the Idea Contest and become the final winners."


"What I really like about this idea is the team spirit behind it. Their proposal succeeded because of its originality and interdisciplinary collaborations."

Dr. Piyada Charoensirisomboon, Vice President, Innovation Campus Asia Pacific (Shanghai), BASF

After being crowned the winners of the Urban Living Idea Contest, the team has now been granted with the financial support to make the project move forward. "Loads of work still needs to be done to make our vision come true. We need to conduct a deeper market research," said Adam. "Numerous challenges lie ahead. However, with the necessary resources and support, we are all very optimistic about its future."

BASF is committed to fostering a culture of innovation in Asia Pacific by constantly expanding its research facilities. In 2012, the Innovation Campus Asia Pacific in Shanghai was inaugurated and in November 2015 completed its phase II expansion. With the research focused on advanced materials and systems, it is emerging as an important global research hub that connects with local customers and academia partners.

"We have been encouraging our researchers to better utilize the labs and world-class facilities at the Innovation Campus to hatch ideas, and to form interdisciplinary partnerships for creative solutions," said Piyada. She believes that Asia Pacific will present more innovative ideas and solutions to meet the regional and global common challenges in the near future.

"These innovative products will probably be launched to the market in a few years," said Adam. "I will be proud to tell my family and friends that this is the result of my work very soon after I began my career at BASF."

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