Parts Cleaning | 5 MINUTE READ

A Conversation with Darren Williams, Ph.D

Dr. Williams, a professor of physical chemistry at Sam Houston State University, will host the Product Quality Cleaning Workshop, May 13-14, and co-chair Production Machining’s Parts Cleaning Conference at IMTS 2020 on Sept. 16.


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Darren Williams, Ph.D., is all about cleaning. The professor of physical chemistry at Sam Houston State University is the conference co-chair for Production Machining’s Parts Cleaning Conference at the International Manufacturing Technology Show on Sept. 16. in Chicago. Dr. Williams will also host the Product Quality Cleaning Workshop at Sam Houston State University on May 13-14.

man holding fish

Dr. Darren Williams

PF: Why have you devoted much of your academic career to cleaning research?

DW: I’m driven to use my skills to serve others, make a difference and be a valuable contributor. During a solvent substitution project for the Department of Energy in 1998, I realized that very few academic researchers were focused on cleaning research. I found my niche. My Cleaning Research Group is improving the safety, effectiveness and environmental impact of cleaning processes. This is my way to make a difference serving others because every product ever made has to be cleaned.

PF: Do you foresee a large change in cleaning requirements in the U.S. similar to what VDA-19 did to Europe?

DW: The Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act amended the Toxic Substances Control Act, and this will impact all companies that use n-propyl bromide, trichloroethylene, n-methyl pyrrolidone, methylene chloride and many other popular and effective cleaning solvents. Find out more at As for European standards, they almost always impact U.S. suppliers. Many attendees of the Product Quality Cleaning Workshop were interested in VDA-19 and ISO 16232 requirements for particle contamination.

PF: What’s the best piece of advice you were given?

DW: There are three: My father said “the measured task gets done,” and this has been both the secret to my success and an explanation of my failures. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel, plans fail; but with many advisers they succeed.” Ask questions, form teams and don’t try to do everything on your own. And James 1:19 says, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Listening, engaging in thoughtful dialog, and living a life of patience and grace will serve everyone in your sphere of influence.

PF: What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?

DW: I was a clerk at Oshman’s Sporting Goods. My boss taught me to string tennis rackets. I had a marketable skill from that moment on. Even after I left Oshman’s, he would call me to come string rackets. I learned that when you have a skill that’s in demand, the work finds you.

PF: If you had $100,000 to give to a charity, which one would it be?

DW: I would support Camp Lone Star in La Grange, Texas, because of the positive character developed in my children by this church camp.

PF: What was your first car, and what is your dream car?

DW: My first car was a 1973 Oldsmobile Cutlass, and my dream car is a 2020 Laramie Edition Dodge Ram pickup truck with “all the fixins.”

PF: What leadership traits have helped you along the way?

DW: “Overcoming the fear of the unknown” has been a key leadership trait. We naturally fear new locations, new bosses and new methods, procedures and processes. We can be paralyzed by uncertainty. But standing still is not an option. Get the bicycle moving, and then you can steer it.

PF: What did you want to be when you grew up?

DW: I wanted to be something exciting like a fireman or an astronaut. Becoming a physical chemist who teaches precision cleaning techniques for liquid oxygen systems for the space program has met my goal.

PF: Night owl or early bird?

DW: Night owl.

PF: Favorite place you’ve ever lived?

DW: My hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.

PF: What organization or company, aside from your own, do you most admire?

DW: I am impressed with SpaceX as they have made seemingly impossible advancements in space vehicles.

PF: If you could trade jobs with anyone for a day, who would it be?

DW: I’d want to have the largest possible impact, so I’d choose the YouTuber PewDiePie. With his 102 million subscribers, I would have fun and would have a large platform for my thoughts and perspectives.

PF: Where would we find you on a typical Saturday?

DW: Flying remote control planes with my son, fishing with my daughter or running errands with my wife; all very enjoyable activities for me.

PF: Best way to keep competitive edge?

DW: In my business, you need to have lots of students on your team who are reading publications, trying new things in the lab and writing up their results.

PF: Personal heroes?

DW: My current heroes are the few academic professors who, at great personal cost, are taking a stand for free speech and constitutional values on today’s crazy college campuses.

PF: What’s your secret talent that no one knows about?

DW: I am a decent marksman.

PF: How do you motivate people?

DW: I tap into their intrinsic motivation to achieve, to earn and to learn new things.

PF: How do you motivate yourself?

DW: I align my to-do list with my priorities of service, discovery and impact.

PF: Three greatest passions?

DW: Love for Christ, love for family, and love for my neighbors.

PF: If you could pick up a new skill in an instant what would it be?

DW: Fluency in Spanish, Greek and Hebrew.

PF: Most unique office décor?

DW: Small gifts that my international students have given me from Sri Lanka, India, China, Egypt, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Hungary and South Africa.

PF: Best business decision?

DW: Leaving my first academic job to take a job in industry. Seeing how chemistry is applied “in the real world” transformed my life.

PF: Worst business decision?

DW: Writing grant proposals or taking contracts just to get the money is a bad idea. If you take money for work you are not fully equipped to do, you will actually lose money when you account for the time needed to climb the steep learning curve. This may be necessary at the beginning so you can learn new skills, but it can be disastrous.

PF: Biggest management myth?

DW: “You have to bust heads to get people to work.” Not true. Find a person’s intrinsic motivators, find their hook and get them to grow into the job you have for them. If they refuse to advance, don’t be afraid to let them go.

PF: Do you collect anything?

DW: Koozies. They are functional, they remind me of good times, they don’t take up any space and they don’t break.

PF: What advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?

DW: Buy 100 bitcoin for $32,000 in 2009 and sell in 2017 for $1.97 million. Gold would have merely doubled in that time.

PF: Word that best describes you?

DW: Intentional

This article originally ran in Products Finishing magazine, PM’s sister brand.




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