A conversation with
Dr. Milton J. Rosen
During the 2017 AOCS Annual Meeting & Industry Showcases in Orlando, Florida, USA, April 30–
May 3, a special session celebrating the 20th volume of the Journal of Surfactants and Detergents
(JSD) will be presented in honor of AOCS Fellow Milton J. Rosen, one of the great pioneers of surfactant research and longtime advisory board member of the journal. I recently talked with Rosen
about his impressive career. This issue’s Olio column is devoted to him.
Olio is an Inform column that highlights research, issues, trends, and
technologies of interest to the oils and fats community.
Few scientists have enjoyed such a long and illustrious
career as Milton J. Rosen. Born in 1920 in Brooklyn, New York,
Rosen received his master’s degree from the University of
Maryland in 1941. With the outbreak of World War II, Rosen
served his country in the Pacific Theater as a member of the
US Army. After discharge, Rosen accepted a teaching position
at Brooklyn College, and in 1949, he earned a PhD in organic
chemistry from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn.
In his lab at Brooklyn College, Rosen became a pioneer in
the field of surfactant research. Among his greatest scientific
contributions were a series of studies investigating the struc-
ture-property relationships of surfactants; derivations of equa-
tions for surfactant synergism; and some of the earliest studies
of gemini surfactants. In 1979, Rosen published the first edi-
tion of his groundbreaking and authoritative work, Surfactants
and Interfacial Phenomena. “Everybody in the industry’s got a
copy of his book, Surfactants and Interfacial Phenomena,” says
Dennis Murphy, research fellow at Stepan Company, and a PhD
student in Rosen’s lab from 1985 to 1989. “It’s in its fourth edi-
tion now, and it’s kind of like the go-to book for surfactants.”
Recalling his time in Rosen’s lab, Murphy describes Rosen
as a “caring, very enthusiastic scientist with a great sense of
In his 70 years as an active researcher, Rosen obtained
more than 150 publications or patents. In 1985, he founded
the Surfactant Research Institute at Brooklyn College, and
in 1991, he established the AOCS Samuel J. Rosen Award, in
honor of his father. Rosen was a longstanding member of the
advisory board for the Journal of Surfactants and Detergents
(JSD), and in 1999, he was elected an AOCS Fellow. Rosen
retired from the Surfactant Research Institute in 2011, at
the age of 91. Now 96, he and wife of 68 years, Ellen, remain
active: They take cruise vacations, and they are giving a talk
at their local Temple on what is was like to live in Jerusalem
during a research sabbatical in 1958. Rosen also stays abreast
of developments in surfactant research, frequently reading Inform and JSD. Here are some highlights from our recent
Q:How did you become interested in surfactants and etergents?
In 1942, I took a job with a firm in Brooklyn, then known
as Glyco Products. They made emulsifiers and food additives,
which were surfactants, but they knew nothing at all about
how they worked or the basis for their actions. They knew
that they could sell them and make money, and that’s all they
were interested in. That’s how I got involved with surfactants.
I was aware of the fact that we didn’t know why they worked
the way they did, or what other structures would be similar to
them and their activities. We just knew that these were things
that we could sell and make money for the firm.
Q:How did you go from there to running your own surfac- tant research lab at Brooklyn College?
I came to Brooklyn College in 1946. As I said, I was working in the chemical industry from 1942 to 1944, and then I
was drafted. When I came out of the Army, I had a job waiting for me at another firm. I went to the firm, and I said, “I’m