Member Spotlight: Meet Mike Williams

Member Spotlight is a regular INFORM magazine column that features members who play critical roles in AOCS.

Mike Williams next to a pinball machine
Mike Williams beside his favorite pinball machine, which he fully restored to “better than new condition” in 2020.
Fast Facts
Name Mike Williams
Joined AOCS 2005
Education M.Sc. from the University of Oregon (Eugene, Oregon, USA)
Job title Research, Development & Innovation group leader, Care Solutions, North America
Employer Evonik Corp., Milton, Wisconsin, USA
Current AOCS involvement Vice-chair, AOCS Surfactants and Detergents Division


What’s a typical day like for you?

My new COVID--times day looks a lot different than my pre-COVID day. Currently, I am at the lab one to two days per week making sure that my group has what they need to get their jobs done, touching base to help solve any chemistry or mechanical issues, interacting with our plant personnel to see what has been happening in the field, and going through the labs to make sure everyone is following our COVID-19 protocols. The other days, I head down to my basement to settle in for a day of remote video interaction.

Flash back to when you were 10 years old. What did you want to be when you grew up?

My mom was the ultimate record-keeper; she kept everything, including my “baby book.” When one thumbs back to look at what I wrote I wanted to be, starting in second grade (and ever after) you will find the word “chemist.”

Why did you decide to do the work you are doing now?

Before I joined Tomah Products in 1998, I was working at a contract research organization. I decided I wanted to get out of pharmaceuticals and go for something with more long-term stability, so I left Illinois and moved to Wisconsin to join Tomah Products. We’ve been through four name changes in my time here, but I have been doing (approximately) the same job ever since Tomah bought the Reserve, Louisiana, USA, alkoxylation plant from Shell in 1999.

What event, person, or life experience has had the most influence on the direction of your life?

I had a chemistry teacher in high school who was the kind of teacher that everyone fears. She was a first-year teacher who did a terrible job of explaining concepts. I remember early on in the first quarter when I challenged her on the first question of her test and why her chemical stoichiometry was wrong, which meant all her subsequent answers were wrong. We did the math together in front of the class and showed how my logic was right. From then on, I took it as a personal challenge to know more about whatever topic we were covering than Ms. T. knew. This meant I spent hours each night working through chemistry problems or reading what I could find in the library. She was gone after one year, but I still found myself digging in at the library as much as possible. This experience ultimately helped me see the need for choosing a college and grad school where I enjoyed working with the professors.


How do you relax after a hard day of work?

I collect and restore pinball machines. Rebuilding drop targets, pop bumpers, and flippers can be an exercise in three-dimensional thinking. However, the most challenging part about restoring machines often is working through any circuit board issues. When a machine sits untouched in someone’s basement for years, the moisture can wreak havoc on the circuits.

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