Congratulations to Dr. Katrina Cornish, Professor & Ohio Research Scholar of Bio-Emergent Materials on winning the 2024 Charles Goodyear Medal. Dr. Cornish holds a split appointment between the Department Horticulture and Crop Science (HCS) and the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering (FABE) here at The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).
The Charles Goodyear Medal is presented by the Rubber Division of the American Chemical Society (ACS) and is the society's top honor, recognizing significant developments made towards the rubber industry. Fortunately, Dr. Cornish had a moment to shed some insight into the natural rubber industry and her continuous efforts to advance the industry.
What initially sparked your interest in natural rubber?
Dr. Cornish: "I needed a job and there was a post doc role available in Arizona that I snapped up. However, I immediately fell in love with it – it is a fascinating biochemical and physiological system and there is enormous need for it, and we have no supply chain security. My career from then on was to make it profitable in normal economic times so that we could have domestic natural rubber crops and to diversify the natural rubber supply both biologically and geographically."
What drives you to fuel innovation in the natural rubber industry?
Dr. Cornish: "If the tropical rubber tree crop fails (it is grown as genetically identical clones) the global economy will be devastated. If we lose our access to tropical rubber before we have our own production, the U.S. economy and its defense fail. The U.S. is reactive not proactive but, in this case, we must be proactive because the consequences of no natural rubber are unacceptable."
Could you tell us a bit about the work that helped you achieve this award?
Dr. Cornish: "There isn’t just one thing. It is a combination of research into domestic alternatives combined with inspiring others to commercially develop it in different countries. However, specifics include allergy-safe latex and products, novel processes, green alternatives to petroleum products used by the rubber industry, the first understanding of the regulation of biosynthetic rate and polymer molecular weight."
What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned while working with natural rubber so far?
Dr. Cornish: "That genetically engineering plants to increase rubber concentration indirectly altered both polymer molecular weight, macromolecular characteristics, and rubber composition. Also, that the cores of guayule rubber particles do not freeze in liquid nitrogen (-196°C)."
What were your feelings on receiving the Charles Goodyear Medal?
Dr. Cornish: "Truly honored."