More than skin deep

Wright State alum Katherine Heminger excels as a scientist with Procter and Gamble

Katherine Heminger, who received her Ph.D. from the Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program, recently returned to give a seminar for the Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program. (Photo by Erin Pence)

When she was in grade school, Katherine Heminger obtained a microscope and would spend hours feeding her scientific curiosity by getting cellular with plants, microorganisms and other living things.

Heminger’s fascination with science would lead to a Ph.D. from the Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program working in professor Steven Berberich’s laboratory in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and a career with the Procter & Gamble Co., where she designs and executes human clinical trials to test and confirm the effectiveness of ingredients in the company’s skin-care and anti-aging products.

“We have some really brilliant scientists at Procter & Gamble,” she said. “Every day I’m always learning from colleagues. That’s exciting. We also have very challenging projects. These are the things that keep me really interested in science and keep my curiosity up.”

Heminger paid a visit to her alma mater in March and gave a seminar titled “Life as a Ph.D. Scientist in Industry” hosted by the Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program. She and Ravi Ranatunga, a P&G recruiter, shared their experiences at Proctor & Gamble as well as resume-building tips for Biomedical Sciences students interested in working in the private sector. Heminger also met with students in the matrix Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the College of Science and Mathematics and Boonshoft School of Medicine.

“For undergraduates, I think you just have to get a very solid fundamental understanding of your field,” she said. “If you have that, I think you can go into industry and you can learn on the job what you need to do to perform your duties.”

Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble is a multibillion-dollar company that specializes in a wide range of cleaning agents and personal care and hygienics products, including laundry detergent, paper towels, deodorant, toothpaste, diapers and skin and hair care items.

Heminger was hired by Procter & Gamble in 1994. She worked in the company’s respiratory technology division, testing ingredients for cough and cold products.

In 2002, she left Procter & Gamble to pursue her Ph.D. at Wright State. For her dissertation, she examined genetic approaches to fight breast and other cancers while working in Berberich’s lab in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Heminger said she was attracted to Wright State because of its flexibility in that she could focus her research on biochemistry and molecular biology but also take advanced classes in pharmacology and toxicology. And she said Wright State offered more one-on-one attention than some of the other universities.

“Wright State seemed to be a very cooperative climate,” she said. “Everybody seemed to be helping each other.”

After she received her Ph.D. from the Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program in 2007, Heminger returned to Procter & Gamble, where she worked in the company’s toxicology division for beauty care products.

“I performed safety risk assessments on ingredients and formulations for our skin care products,” she said. “I also conducted human safety testing — irritation patch tests, sensitization — to make sure you don’t have any adverse skin reaction.”

In 2010, Heminger moved into her current position, where she runs clinical trials to generate data that can be used to support product claims or simply to learn more about the biology of human skin.

“By understanding what’s happening to your skin, hopefully we can produce better anti-aging products,” she said.

Katherine grew up in the Dayton area, the oldest of five children. Her mother is a nurse who worked in hospitals and nursing homes. Her father is a physicist who did research at Mound Laboratories in Miamisburg before retiring. She said conversations with her father may have sparked her later interest in research.

After graduating from Archbishop Alter High School in 1980, she enrolled at The Ohio State University, where she studied animal science and took some advanced research classes as part of the honors program

After graduating from OSU, her life became a bit of a whirlwind while managing her career and her husband’s Air Force career. She worked in a lab at Texas Tech University, a kidney research lab at the State University of New York in Syracuse and then in 1990 earned a master’s degree in biochemistry from Oklahoma State University.

Heminger then returned to Ohio and got a job working in the pulmonary biology department at the Children’s Hospital Research Foundation in Cincinnati, studying ways to strengthen the lungs of premature babies. Then in 1994, she jumped to Procter & Gamble to work in respiratory technology.

Katherine and her husband have two sons.

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