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Lip Smackin' Good

Someday a soybean-oil lip balm created by NU engineering students could heal thousands of dry, cracked lips.

SoySmaks isn’t on the market yet, but the two students who developed the lip balm are hoping to commercialize it in the future.

Ginger Ivy Jo Wingate, a 22-year-old biological systems engineering and communications studies major from Adams, and Kelly Kinnison, a 21-year-old agricultural engineering major from Lexington, developed SoySmaks in 1999. That year, the lip moisturizer won the pair the Nebraska Soybean Board’s first Innovative Uses of Soybeans Contest and $1,000.

The students also received a $7,000 grant from the Soybean Board to do a consumer acceptance study of the product. They used part of the grant money to pay for lip balm containers and more SoySmaks ingredients. To find out what people think about the product, they gave test samples away and are looking into marketing possibilities.

The creation of the product began as a design project for a class in biological systems engineering and agricultural engineering taught by Curt Weller. Students had the option of entering the Soybean Board contest to fulfill the project requirements.

“Ginger and I were friends before the class,” Kinnison said. “And we thought, ‘Why don’t we work together and see if we can win some money?’”

Soybean boards in other states have given awards for products such as candles, adhesives, cleaners and crayons, according to Lois Ronhovde from the Nebraska Soybean Board. The NU students decided on lip balm.

“Ginger said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to start a cosmetic line with soy oil in it?’” Kinnison said.

And the research for the soy cosmetic line began.

The students tested melting points of commercial lipstick and blended different amounts of ingredients. They incorporated concepts such as viscosity, which they had studied in class, into the design.

But the major breakthrough in creating the winning product came by trying again and again.

“The first few tries were horrible,” Kinnison said. “One was too runny, the other too hard. It took about a week and a half of trying every day before we came up with a product that worked.”

The final product is clear and soft enough to apply to lips with little pressure. SoySmaks contains antioxidants to prevent the soy balm from going rancid. For now, it comes only in peppermint flavor.

“It’s been a great adventure,” Wingate said about the project. “We never thought we could make or even invent something as undergraduate students.”

— Michelle Oliver

The Right Place at the Right Time

Everyone gets a wild idea now and then, but not everyone is lucky enough to find out if that idea really works. Mingsheng Liu just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Plans for Othmer Hall, the chemical engineering addition, were still on the drawing board when Liu interviewed for a faculty position in architectural engineering. After he moved to Omaha, he followed up to see if he could contribute to the project.

Liu met with people from NU’s Facilities Management & Planning and the DLR Group. Facilities Management is overseeing the construction project for the university, and DLR is the project architect.

Liu’s idea, adopted by the project team, is expected to increase indoor air quality and save the university money in utility costs.

Othmer Hall, scheduled for completion in 2002, will feature a renovated air-handling unit. An air-handling unit typically functions as a dedicated system in an area of a building. In this design, three units are integrated to provide heating and cooling to most of the entire building. The unit provides 100 percent outside air to the office, funneling the return air to the laboratory section of the building.

“This is a more efficient design,” Liu says. Here’s why. Recirculation of outside air in the laboratory is expected to lower ventilation and reheat energy consumption. And worker productivity should improve as more fresh air (100 percent compared with 10 percent) is pumped into the office area.

Liu joined the NU faculty from Texas A&M University, where he received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. He completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees at the Harbin Institute of Architectural and Civil Engineering in China, specializing in heating, ventilating and air conditioning engineering.

Othmer Hall will house the Chemical Engineering Department, Office of the Dean, research laboratories and classrooms. Catherine Wagner and Jim Hines, Facilities Management and Planning, and Don Horkey, DLR Group, are managing the teams of engineers and technicians involved in the $24 million project.

After an initial investment, Liu predicts the systems may save up to 20 percent energy.
“These systems could be used in other public buildings,” he says, “and the cost savings would be substantial.”

— Deb Derrick