By Lindsay Riddell
It was a high school class when she first arrived in the United States that hooked Maria Ochomogo on chemistry.
“I think I probably would have been a scientist in Cuba, too, but I’m not sure I would have had the opportunity to work in nice companies like Clorox and to work on patents,” says Maria, whose family immigrated to the United States when she was 14-years old.
47 patents and counting
Maria currently holds 47 Clorox patents, earned over the past 23 years. Maria holds a diverse range of patents currently used in products from cleaning sprays to wipes to toilet cleaners to foods. But Maria’s best known for her patents related to the Green Works® line of naturally derived cleaning products.
“The type of emulsion I developed is really unique because cleaning soils with only natural ingredients is hard,” Maria said. “This patented emulsion enhances the fragrance and cleaning power of lemon oil, so you don’t have to use solvents to clean.”
Not only did Maria win a national award for her work on the Green Works line, she also became known as the “Mother of Green Works” and used to personally answer consumer questions about Green Works products.
Her pride in the Green Works patents is authentic. One of her prize possessions is a photo of ringing the New York Stock Exchange opening bell with a group of Green Works colleagues.
That’s my baby
Maria won her first patents while working for a food company right after earning her phD from Louisiana State University, where she also received her Bachelors and Masters degrees — all three in chemistry. In her early career, she was an integral part of a team that helped Kikkoman® bring its first teriyaki sauce to the U.S. She also was part of a group that invented stabilizers used in Yoplait yogurt. But the first patent she earned was for a stabilizer for ice cream that’s still used in Dreyer’s® products today.
“It was wonderful. It was so exciting,” Maria says of earning that first patent. “When I got to my house, my husband got me flowers. It was special to me and more special because he recognized it.”
Her career took her to Chevron®, where she earned 10 more patents and where she developed a specialty in working with aerosol sprays. That experience won her a job at Clorox 23 years ago, she says — and her first Clorox patent was for a spray cleaner.
The trick with aerosols, Maria says, is that “you need special ingredients to prevent corrosion.”
After 13 years in Cleaning product development, she moved to the Advanced Technologies group, where she worked on technologies for various businesses. Most recently, she’s worked on cat litter — and already earned a few patents there, too.
In August 2014, the Litter group introduced a lightweight litter. Maria’s contribution was a patented nanoemulsion to enhance fragrance.
Curiosity has always been the driving force for Maria, and she says every day she wants to tackle new challenges and solve new problems to make good products.
“When I see a product on the shelf that I invented, it’s like my baby,” Maria says. “It’s something that’s mine that’s born.”
More women in science
She’s also committed to mentoring the next generation of female scientists. Her track record is remarkable. She has two daughters, one an electrical engineer and one with a phD in molecular biology. And now she’s leading her 7-year-old granddaughter Abigail along the science path.
Maria said she takes Abigail to the Tech Museum of Innovation and buys her books on Marie Curie, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize. She knows the effort is paying off, too: Abigail recently dressed up as Albert Einstein for a school spirit day.
“I’d like Abigail to be a scientist just like me,” Maria says. “I think we need more women in science. That’s one of the things I love about Clorox because there are as many women scientists as there are men scientists working here.”