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Diageo celebrates the work of its R&D centres around the world

To mark National Chemistry Week in the UK, Diageo is celebrating the pioneering work carried out by the skilled individuals based within its Research and Development centres around the world.

Feature

Diageo has four Research and Development centres globally, based in North America, Singapore, India and the UK.

As a company built and sustained through innovation, the work of Diageo’s liquid developers, packaging teams as well as its sensory and consumer guidance teams play an important role translating insights and ideas into products and bringing their craft to life.

To get a glimpse into this area of the business, James Wilkinson, Senior Liquid Technologist in the Africa R&D innovation team, gives his take on the world of liquid science, his role at Diageo and how he got there, as well as some advice for aspiring chemists looking to pursue a career in their field.

James Wilkinson, Senior Liquid Technologist  at work in a lab

James Wilkinson, Senior Liquid Technologist at Diageo

Tell us a bit about your background.
“I first dipped my toes into the world of liquid development as part of a sandwich year while studying an integrated Masters in Chemistry at the University of Bath. Following a successful placement at Diageo’s R&D Innovation Europe team, I completed my masters and applied to join Diageo permanently – as a liquid scientist in the Africa R&D innovation team.”

What does your role as Senior Liquid Technologist entail?
“Every day is different for me. As a Senior Liquid Technologist I’m involved throughout the many phases required to develop and produce a drink. Whether it be sampling up to fifty flavours to discover the perfect lime for a Margarita, or calculating how to scale up a litre on a lab bench to a much larger quantity for production – no day is the same.

“Starting in Diageo’s Europe team, I honed my craft quickly being involved in exciting new projects, such as the development of Smirnoff’s frozen pouches. Now, as part of Diageo’s Africa team, I work in close proximity to the wider business in order to understand how culture, trends and tastes particular to that region of the world impact upon the liquid they develop in the lab.

“Far from always being in the lab, my role also enables me to travel from time to time. In recent years I have travelled to Africa on three occasions as well as making numerous trips to Europe.”

What is the most rewarding part of your role?
“At the heart of my job is an ambition to always strive for the best – by creating drinks from their core ingredients, my team and I act as the guardians of the best in class. For me, the most rewarding part of my role is seeing the tangible result of my work. I am in a professions where I can look at a product on a shop shelf and think ‘I helped make that’.”

What training have you received while in role?
“My role sees me constantly learning. In addition to being surrounded by colleagues that represent the best in their field, both my team and I are constantly training our technical understanding and our palates. The ability to taste objectively and have sharpened senses are crucial skills in finding the perfect balance for the best flavour.”

What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career in chemistry?
“The opportunities within chemistry are vast. Almost anything you pick up that is man-made will have involved a chemist at some stage of its production.
“For anyone looking to pursue a career in chemistry, I recommend you think far and wide. The problem solving mentality that you have as a chemist is an invaluable skill for any business and will take you far.”

For more information on Diageo's R&D centre in Woodside, you can view this short film.