Metal-complexing Dye and Surfactant

Published Dec-15-09

A “smart” dye that turns dishwater blue to indicate when the correct amount of detergent has been added.

Giorgia Sgargetta, Italy

The Story:

 Metal-complexing Dye and Surfactant Procter and Gamble needed help with a pressing problem. Some of their best in-house brains were unable to crack a challenge that the company had set for the creation of a new dishwashing detergent. And so the huge multinational corporation looked to open innovation to provide the answer.

Open Innovation is the Key to Survival

Companies such as Procter and Gamble realize that open innovation is one of their keys to survival in an increasingly competitive marketplace. The demand for new and superior products is rapacious and no matter how good in-house research and development departments may be they are not viewed as the only solution. Some experts believe that the traditional R&D model is going the way of the Dodo.

Dirty Water Woes

What P&G wanted was a “smart” detergent that would reveal exactly when the correct amount of soap had been added to a sink full of dirty dishes. Cleaning solutions are used to wash items in standing water, but the problem with this is that dirt, grease and grime accumulate in the sink or basin turning the water a reddish-brown. This happens after even only a few items have been washed and it gives the perception that the water is dirty. Previously dyes have been added to mask the color change, but the results did not win favor with consumers, and the dyes affected other qualities of the detergents.

So P&G wanted something that would reveal exactly when the water is dirty and needing to be changed.

Challenge Solved

The challenge was solved by Italian chemist Giorgia Sgargetta from Abruzzo in Italy who has a Ph.D. in chemistry and works for an agrochemicals firm. Chemistry is not only her day job it’s her hobby too. She continues to dabble with chemicals, catalysts and reactions in her spare time in her home-based laboratory, surrounded by beakers, vials, and solutions. On reading this particular challenge she remembered some chemicals she had worked with previously, ordered them and got down to work. Eventually she pioneered an entirely new kind of dye which turns dishwater blue when a certain amount of soap has been added. And for her color changing phenomena she was awarded $30,000, and her name and the discovery were referenced on the patent application that P&G filed.

That was in 2007, which turned out to be a bumper year for Sgargetta as she was one of InnoCentive’s top solvers with two challenges solved in the chemistry and life sciences fields. Her total prize money was $45,000.

Win-Win Situation

Open innovation is a win-win situation for solvers and solution seekers. Procter and Gamble understand – as do many other companies - that there has been a paradigm shift in the relationship between the “professionals” and the consumers, and that forging creative connections with external sources will precipitate future growth. In fact, more than 35% of P&G’s innovations have elements that come from outside the company. And that figure is going up all the time.

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