Alex yahkind in 1988

Meet our Scientist of the Year 2024

Congratulations to Alex Yahkind, AkzoNobel’s Scientist of the Year 2024. Currently working as a Senior Scientist in our Global Corporate Innovation Group in Troy in the US, Alex’s expertise covers a wide range of areas – from his first love – polymer chemistry – to coil, aerospace and automotive coatings, color technology and green chemistry.

In his 38 years with the company, Alex has amassed an impressive tally of 16 US and European patents and has held a variety of roles including R&D Manager of Vehicle Refinishes, Commercial Vehicles and Plastic Coatings; and Manager of Resins Development.

“Alex has worked in a wide variety of areas and has provided tremendous benefits to our businesses,” says our Chief Innovation Officer, David Williams. “His understanding of the market has led him to develop solvent-borne, waterborne and soft-touch technologies, as well as an acid etch resistant clearcoat and autoclear resins for our automotive business.

“He’s commercialized coatings for coil, automotive refinish, commercial vehicles and automotive plastic components. One of his most impressive achievements to date was taking part in a pioneering research project with NASA, the US Navy and the US National Laboratory to develop anti-corrosion coatings for space shuttle launch pads.”

We caught up with Alex to talk about his award and his distinguished career with AkzoNobel.

How did you react when you found out you’d won Scientist of the Year?

It was an unbelievable feeling. It was my Coatings Oscar moment! With so many great coatings scientists in AkzoNobel to choose from, I was somewhat surprised.


Can you describe your very first experience with chemistry?

In 7th grade I had a great teacher who did fascinating experiments where liquids and flames changed color and chemical reactions produced gas and heat. For kids, it was an incredible experience.


What inspired you to pursue a career in paints and coatings?

After getting my chemistry degree in the Soviet Union, I enrolled in the graduate polymer program at the University of Detroit in the US and started working at AkzoNobel. The combination of polymer and coating chemistry and practical experience at AkzoNobel sold me on paints and coatings.


Why are you particularly interested in polymer chemistry?

Polymers are the backbone of coatings and without the knowledge and understanding of the chemistry of polymers, the intelligent formulation needed for coatings just isn’t possible. 


What’s your proudest achievement?

There are a few: taking part in the joint project with NASA is one of them. I led the development of paint to protect launch pads and their surrounding structures from heat, acid and salt. The highlight was being invited by NASA’s Director to a private tour of the Kennedy Space Center and going inside the actual space shuttle!

I’m also proud of developing and commercializing soft-touch, proprietary polyurethane polyol and melamine polyol technologies.


If you could invent a completely new type of paint or coating, what would it be and what properties would it have?

It would be completely recyclable, with zero volatile organic compounds (VOC), a very low carbon footprint and functional properties (energy-generating, air-purifying, easily removable, able to change color etc). I should probably stop there, because there’s no limit to imagination and I have to leave the younger generation of chemists something to do!


What are the future challenges?

Society’s continuing quest for cleaner air, water and soil. Future coatings will use environmentally-friendly raw materials, radiation and low bake curing technologies.  I’m not worried about running out of projects for many years to come.


You’re known as someone who loves transferring his knowledge to others in the company. Why is being a mentor so important to you?

I love to get different points of view and break down barriers between functions, business units and geographical locations.


Who was your mentor? What role did he/she play in yourcareer?

My former boss, Klaas Kruithof taught me how to be business savvy and use research to create commercial products. Every time he visited our Troy laboratory, he’d ask: “Alex, what’s the new invention?” I started to wish his travel budget would be cut!


Can you share a funny anecdote about life as a scientist?

One of my patents was stuck in the review cycle for seven years. Our lawyer was ready to give up on the application, so I asked if I could do anything to help. He jokingly replied: “Well, you could fly to Washington to meet the government examiner.” So, I did! We had a lovely face-to-face meeting, I answered all his questions and a week after my visit, the patent was granted!

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