Open Innovation: Glycerin for Art Restoration

Published Oct-30-09

Breakthrough:
A cheap and convenient replacement compound for an expensive chemical that was used in art restoration projects.

Company:
Drew Buschhorn, United States

The Story:

Open Innovation: Glycerin for Art Restoration Cyclododecane is a wax-like organic compound that was used by art conservationists as a temporary sealant for weak and fragile objects. It worked well, but it was very expensive and not particularly planet-friendly as it accumulates in the environment. The chemical was being phased out by the Environmental Protection Agency and a challenge was set by a company for someone to come up with an environmentally friendly replacement solution that would do the same job just as well, or even better.

A Swift Solution

Answering the call in 2004 was Drew Buschhorn, a 20-year-old senior undergraduate chemistry student from the University of Texas in Dallas. He admits to being somewhat obsessed with chemistry and came up with the answer and wrote the white paper in little more than six hours. He bagged $10,000 in prize money for his efforts. Not bad, for a little more than half a day’s work!

Chemical Compound

The alternative that he presented was a compound that he had discovered years previously when helping his mother to preserve colors in dyed cloth. As a kid Buschhorn would watch his mom enjoy her favorite hobby which was to dye cloths. She would ask him to help her out with some of the chemistry. “She would always get me to help with the chemical aspects, the parts that artists don't like," he told the University of Dallas news magazine.

He once used glycerin to get the dye to adhere to the cloth. Although it wasn’t a perfect solution it had its merits and some of the dye would stay on. It helped him to come up with a winning formula for the cyclododecane replacement. Glycerin also had additional bonuses of being biodegradable and costing relatively nothing when compared to the $50 a kilogram price tag attached to cyclododecane.

The Drive for Success

Buschhorn’s reward came in extremely handy; it went toward a down payment for a car. And the boon for the unnamed company was that it was able to forge rapidly ahead with the development of new products based on the chemistry student’s compound.

Buschhorn's winning solution also had another personal benefit for him as he told an interviewer at the time of his big money award. “"I'm applying to grad schools and I tell them about my participation in the online R&D community and the award I received and so far they've all said that impresses them. I think this will improve my chances of getting in.” Well, it worked. He was accepted by Indiana University Bloomington where he achieved his master's degree in inorganic chemistry before working as a research assistant under one of the University’s most respected professors.

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