The Chemistry of Paint

17 May 2019

Paint is such a common part of our physical environment that people hardly stop to ponder – what is paint actually made of? With a passion for chemistry, Zhe Liang’s job involves researching, innovating and formulating different types of paint for consumers. The DIGEST team speaks with him to find out some interesting aspects of the paints and coatings industry.

Tell us more about yourself.

Zhe Liang: Hi! I am Goh Zhe Liang and I graduated from TUM Asia in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering. After my graduation, I started working at AkzoNobel Paints as a Research Chemist in the Research, Development & Innovation department and have been working there ever since.

How did your interest in chemistry develop?

Zhe Liang: My interest in science was ignited upon exposure back in primary school and it grew when I was introduced to other branches of science during secondary school. I realised that physics lessons were more straightforward and have logical explanations to it, whereas chemistry was some sort of magic to me. During chemistry laboratory lessons, I have always marvelled at how some chemical reactions could take place and other reactions could not, and that two compounds could react to give a different compound in the end. That curiosity eventually paved the way to my growing passion in chemistry and in research.


The greatest lesson learnt from my Bachelor studies is that pure memory work will not get you far, but it is the understanding of fundamentals coupled with adaptable thinking that will help you solve all kinds of problems.“


What do you think was the most valuable experience you received from your bachelor studies in TUM Asia?

Zhe Liang: There are many valuable experiences I gained during my course of study and the most valuable experience is to never cease to be curious. It was a revelation to me when I saw how some professors would not continue teaching until someone asked a question regarding what had been taught. The German professors love it when students ask questions out of critical thinking and curiosity. Curiosity also drives one to study topics outside the scope of what was taught, which in turn helps you to understand the topic in a way that suits you the best.

How has your Bachelor studies contributed to your career path?

Zhe Liang: In my line of work which deals with paints and coatings, TUM has equipped me with a very strong chemistry foundation especially in terms of organic chemistry. But I would say the greatest lesson learnt from my Bachelor studies is that pure memory work will not get you far, but it is the understanding of fundamentals coupled with adaptable thinking that will help you solve all kinds of problems. Understanding this key principle is the key to unlocking difficult research problems.

What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?

Zhe Liang: In the paints and coatings industry, companies must be quick to respond to competition. Due to the fast-paced environment, I was able to see rapid results of my research and development being released in the market and having an impact on people’s lives. When I see products that I had formulated being sold on shelves, it gives me a sense of satisfaction and achievement.

Tell us more about a memorable project you have worked on.

Zhe Liang: My first project was to migrate all the interior wall paints to a low-odour range. Besides formulating new paints with minimal smell, I came up with the idea of conducting odour assessments on smaller scales where respondents were asked to rate the odour on freshly-painted panels, instead of a fully painted house. This reduced the need for a large space and enabled mobility for potential customers. This really helped us to complete the project well. At the end of the project, I was given an award in recognition of my efforts, and this was really memorable for me.



The potential of the chemistry industry lies in its ever-growing size that includes many aspects from research to production, to chemicals supply and chemicals testing.“


What do you think are the prospects and potential of the chemistry industry?

Zhe Liang: I think that the chemistry industry will always stay relevant as it affects our lives and is everywhere. If you think about it, paints and coatings are just one part of the chemical industry and it already covers the types of paint that you apply on walls, roads, furniture, metal signage, cars, airplanes, ships and even the coatings of home appliances. Other than paints and coatings, there are the plastics industry and the emerging and rapidly evolving green chemistry industry, which utilizes catalysis and possibly a multidisciplinary approach. The potential of the chemistry industry lies in its ever-growing size that includes many aspects from research to production, to chemicals supply and chemicals testing.

Any advice for your juniors who are interested to pursue a career in chemistry?

Zhe Liang:  My advice for my juniors is to continue to be curious because education never stops. The Bachelor studies at TUM is just a stepping stone and it encompasses a wide variety of modules that are relevant to different industries – so take some time to ponder over which modules interest you the best. From there, you will be able to carve a career that will best suit your interests.


Goh Zhe Liang studied in the Bachelor of Science degree in the field of Chemical Engineering with the Technical University of Munich. He studied in the Singapore branch campus (TUM Asia) and spent five months in Munich, Germany to complete his thesis at the home campus of the university. 

To read the full interview with Zhe Liang, it was first published in our DIGEST Newsletter (January – April 2019 Issue). View the e-newsletter here >>

TUM Asia administrates the TUM Bachelor degrees together with the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT). GCE ‘A’ Levels, Polytechnic Diploma and international qualification holders may apply for the TUM Bachelor degrees. Find out more about the programmes offered >>

Interested students may apply for the TUM Bachelor of Science programmes from January to March each year by selecting the TUM Bachelor programmes:


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