When Judit Puskas received the chance to join the faculty at the University of Akron's Department of Polymer Science, there was no doubt it would be a good move.
The bulk of the major tire and rubber makers have relocated, but when you're a professor, researcher and inventor, Akron remains the place to be.
``It's still the rubber capital of the world,'' said Puskas, who previously worked at the University of Western Ontario in London. ``There's lots of research here, the No. 1 place in the world.''
Puskas holds the department's Lanxess Industrial Chair, originally established by the Bayer Polymers unit of Bayer Inc.
At Western Ontario, she held the Bayer-NSERC Industrial Research Chair in elastomer technology within the university's Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, and directed the Macromolecular Engineering Research Centre there.
Along with teaching - she has a polymer science graduate class this fall - Puskas will continue her collaboration with Lanxess, mostly doing research in butyl rubber. She also will continue her work in soft rubbers, particularly for biomedical applications.
``The addition of Judit Puskas clearly enhances our polymer programs and will take us into exciting new areas,'' said Frank Kelley, dean of Akron's College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering.
Earlier this year, Puskas invented an environmentally friendly thermoplastic elastomer with the potential for wide-ranging applications. She and another Akron professor, Joseph P. Kennedy, invented the first version of the TPE back in 1991, and recently the Food and Drug Administration approved it for use in a drug-eluting coronary stent.
In laboratory tests, the new TPE has demonstrated good physiological properties without requirements for chemical additives, which makes the TPE suitable for use in medical applications such as stents, prostheses and implants.
Because the material is soft, strong and leakproof, it also is ideal for artificial arteries and breast implants.
One of Puskas' goals for the TPE is to prevent encrustation around a stent or other device. Silicone and other synthetic elastomers sometimes meet with that result, she said.
``The hardening around, say, a urethral stent can cause irritation and inflammation, and usually the stent needs to be removed,'' Puskas said. ``We'd like to find a solution for that.''
A native of Hungary, Puskas has a doctorate in plastics and rubber technology and a master's degree in organic and biomedical engineering from the Technical University of Budapest. A proponent of furthering education and getting talented people within the rubber industry, she believes companies can help by taking a long-term view toward research.
``They should reserve some money toward exploratory research which doesn't affect their everyday business operations,'' she said, acknowledging the funds aren't always there. That way some of the best minds interested in research may be drawn to the industry, Puskas said.
Without that type of research and those kinds of people, ``the industry is in danger,'' she said.