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News Colorful chemistry

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Alumni-faculty-student network leads to successful internship

President Doug Thornley '75 and student Ashley Lennon check out nail polish in an applications lab at Impact Colors in Newark, where Lennon worked as an intern.

When University of Delaware sophomore Ashley Lennon changed her major to chemistry and expressed an interest in the cosmetics industry, her comment began a student-faculty-alumni chain reaction that led her to a particularly colorful internship.

“I was always interested in skin care, and at one time I thought about becoming a dermatologist,” said Lennon, who had second thoughts about the time and expense required for medical school. “So when I learned about Impact Colors, it seemed like a perfect internship. Obviously, makeup and skin-care products have color in them, but I never thought about where that color comes from and who actually makes it.”

As it turns out, a lot of the pigments that go into everything from nail polish to hair gel are stocked and formulated at the Impact Colors laboratory located adjacent to UD’s Newark campus.

The business is led by Doug Thornley, who earned his own bachelor’s degree in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in 1975 and who has stayed in touch and engaged with the University ever since. He was happy to create an internship experience for Lennon at the lab in Delaware Technology Park.

“When I first graduated, I worked in a lab, and I loved the inspiration of that kind of work, but I didn’t like doing the same procedures over and over,” Thornley said. 

He moved into selling raw materials, still using his knowledge of chemistry every day, but enjoying the opportunity to work with customers and meet their needs for specific kinds of products.

Now, as president of his own business, Thornley said he continues to love the variety of the pigments Impact Colors creates and the ways they can be used. He enthusiastically explains how different-size particles in a pigment create different qualities, such as shine and sparkle, while the thickness of the coating causes color shifts, like light refracting through a prism. All the pigments are transparent, he points out, so a user’s skin tone makes each one unique.

“So many people think about chemistry as making things – a kind of recipe you follow in the lab to get a certain result,” he said. “But when you actually get into industry, especially in sales, it’s less about how something is made and more about what it does. You focus on: What are the properties of this product? And how do you apply those properties?”

When Lennon decided to try out a chemistry major, she emailed a faculty member asking for advice on a possible career in the cosmetics industry. Her note quickly made its way to John Burmeister, Alumni Distinguished Professor and associate chair of the department, who oversees all its undergraduate programs.

Lennon interned with Impact Colors, which stocks and formulates pigments for cosmetics and personal care items, such as lipstick and hair gel.

Within a few days, Thornley and Lennon had spoken and devised an internship opportunity for her, which she began during Winter Session and continued throughout spring semester.

“Doug was so helpful and so nice, even though I didn’t have any experience,” Lennon said. “And Dr. Burmeister was just awesome in connecting us.”

She worked on numerous other types of projects as well, eventually helping to formulate items for sample bags of a variety of products such as lipstick, hairspray and fragrance powder that Impact Colors representatives can use at trade shows and sales calls to customers. 

“Ashley did a very nice job for us,” Thornley said. “We were glad to have her, and I hope she thinks about sales and marketing as a career even if she doesn’t pursue laboratory chemistry.”

More about Impact Colors

Impact Colors, headquartered in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, provides pigments to the cosmetics and personal-care industries worldwide.

Its applications laboratory has been located in Delaware Technology Park in Newark since 2007.

The technology park is an innovation hub created as a partnership among the state of Delaware, UD and private companies, and Thornley described it as a perfect and cost-effective location for a small startup.

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Thanks to a faculty-alumnus connection, a chemistry student interested in a possible career in the cosmetics industry was offered the opportunity to intern in a business that formulates pigments for that industry.

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  • Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • 102 Brown Laboratory
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-1247
  • Undergraduate Program Inquiries 302-831-2465