CORVALLIS, Ore. — When Kaichang Li developed a new adhesive inspired by the extreme rock-holding power of mussels, he didn’t foresee that it would change the plywood industry.
Today, after his innovation has been adopted by about 60 percent of the plywood and veneer industry, he is receiving a national award for federally supported research that benefits society. At a ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., the professor in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University received the 2017 Golden Goose Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), several other science societies and congressional supporters.
In 2003, with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Li began working with Columbia Forest Products to adapt his new soybean-based adhesive to hardwood plywood manufacturing. By 2006, the company had converted all of its plants away from formaldehyde-based adhesives — whose emissions are known to cause cancer — to this new, soy-based glue.
“OSU scientist Kaichang Li’s work in partnership with Columbia Forest Products is a wonderful demonstration of the power of innovation and public-private collaboration to address real-world challenges and create new opportunities,” said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR). “Li’s discovery of a soy-based glue has swept through the wood products industry, but we wouldn’t have this green invention if Li hadn’t first wondered how mussels can stick to rough surfaces underwater.
“We all benefit when federal researchers, university scientists and private companies follow their curiosity and collaborate in solving problems. Federal investment in science and research, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture award that supported this work, allows scientists like Kaichang Li to turn curiosity into new knowledge and practical solutions.”
Li is one of six researchers to receive the award this year. The Golden Goose Award honors scientists whose federally funded work may have been considered silly, odd or obscure when first conducted but has resulted in significant benefits to society.
In 2012, a coalition of business, university and scientific organizations created the Golden Goose Award, conceived by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) as a strong counterpoint to criticisms of basic research as wasteful federal spending, such as the late Sen. William Proxmire’s (D-WI) Golden Fleece Award. Learn more about the award, including past winners and supporters: www.goldengooseaward.org.