Member Spotlight: Meet Sanja Natali
Member Spotlight is a regular INFORM magazine column that features members who play critical roles in AOCS.
|Ph.D. in chemical engineering from New York University (New York, New York, USA)
|Customer Application Development, Performance Liquid Technology
|ExxonMobil Chemical Co. (Houston, Texas, USA)
|Current AOCS involvement
|Session chair at the AOCS Annual Meeting & Expo, associate editor of the Journal of Surfactants and Detergents, treasurer/secretary of the Surfactants and Detergents Division
Flash back to when you were 10 years old. What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a pilot as I always had the desire to travel and explore the world. I’m from Serbia, but my parents got married in Japan and traveled to India and Thailand afterward. In addition, my father worked in Austria when I was young, and we spent every summer in Greece, so I was always fascinated by different countries and cultures.
Why did you decide to do the work you are doing now?
I started my industrial career as a rheologist, but soon afterward I was introduced to the amazing world of surfactants by Samuel Rosen Memorial Award-recipient and now dear friend, Charles Hammond. I was fascinated by the strongly nonlinear behavior of surfactants and the need to understand the fundamental science behind this behavior to use them to their maximum capacity.
Is there an achievement or contribution you are most proud of? Why?
In a previous job, two brilliant scientists from India worked on one of the projects I led, although we never met in person. Last year, after speaking at a surfactant conference in India, one of the two scientists came to talk with me. What made it special was his words about how intellectually excited he was working on that project and how people around him even noticed that. I am very passionate about my work, and what makes me really proud is when I can inspire and coach other people to share the same passion.
What event, person, or life experience has had the most influence on the direction of your life?
My mother. She always believed in me and was a great role model. She was very scientifically minded, progressive, and a career-driven woman. Sadly, she passed away quite young, but the confidence that she had that I would do great things in life inspired me to dare and explore different paths.
How do you relax after a hard day of work?
By enjoying time with my family. We always have dinner together and discuss interesting topics, from art and politics to science. Sometimes, that results in experiments that we need to conduct, which add extra fun. Currently, we are working on a still-motion animation movie about two birds who travel to the moon.
What is the most impressive thing you know how to do?
I would say that the most unexpected thing I know how to do is decorating food. I enjoy making food art with my daughters’ lunches. I hope this is teaching them a valuable lesson on the importance of devoting time to things that you like, even if the end product is not meant to last.