Make The Connection

March 7, 2024 | By Cole Hatcher

Ohio Wesleyan student Clint Johnson '25 works with OWU-based Airable Research Lab, an experience that led to his developing a soybean-based protective coating, which he hopes to be able to take to market. (Photo courtesy of Clint Johnson '25)

Soy, Oh Soy

Ohio Wesleyan Student Creates Bio-Based Metal Coating, Earns Soybean Council Scholarship

Name: Clint Johnson '25
Hometown: I grew up in the Sunbury, Ohio, area, and then moved to Urbana, Ohio
High School: Big Walnut High School
Majors: Chemistry and Mathematics
OWU Connection Experience: Completing an internship with, and continuing to work for, Ohio Wesleyan-based Airable Research Lab

Johnson served as an intern with Airable during the summer of 2023 and has continued working for the commercial laboratory for approximately eight to 10 hours a week. Funded by the Ohio Soybean Council, Airable has been located inside OWU's Schimmel/Conrades Science Center since 2019.

"The mission of Airable is to find new uses for soy with the goal of replacing petroleum as much as possible," said Johnson, who learned about the internship opportunity from Heather Grunkemeyer, Ph.D., associate professor of Chemistry.

"Various companies will come to Airable with either a product they want to make or a product that is currently made from petroleum and ask us to make it using soy," Johnson said. "A large reason for this is to be able to market a product as bio-based. Airable will research and develop the products and take a small commission."

I really fell in love with doing research as it is really rewarding to make something that has never been done before and watching these products go out to the industry and actually being used.

Clint Johnson '25

A Rewarding Internship

"It was a perfect match," he said, "since I have a farming background. (I run a hay business at home and my family raises goats and beef).

"Throughout the internship, I really fell in love with doing research as it is really rewarding to make something that has never been done before and watching these products go out to the industry and actually being used. The experience really made me decide that I want to pursue more research in my career. Specifically, I would love to do research with agriculture, something similar to what I did at Airable."

Creating a New Product

"Watching products with applications ranging from leather conditioner and dyes to coatings and cleaning aids enter the market and gradually increase the soy demand motivated me to start a new project: creating an acid-resistant metal coating using soy. After a month of dedication and overcoming challenges, I successfully created a product that surpassed my expectations – a completely acid-resistant, clear, flexible, and best of all, soybean-based coating."

In recognition of his scholarship and accomplishments, Johnson recently earned the Ohio Soybean Council Foundation's 2024-2025 Bhima Vijayendran Scholarship, awarded to support students pursuing degrees related to science, technology, and soybean research.

"Looking ahead," he said, "my goal this year is to further explore and refine my coating with the intention of taking it into production. This product will have applications related to automobile corrosion protection equipment preservation."

My Campus Involvements

Johnson's list of campus involvements includes:

  • Math and Computer Science Student Board, "which reviews and evaluates professors based on feedback from students. The board then makes decisions regarding rehiring, tenure, etc."
  • Choral Art Society (choir). "My other OWU Connection was a trip to Chicago and Cleveland with the choir, where we attended a choral event with several other schools. The trip was partially paid for with a TPG (Theory-to-Practice Grant) from OWU."
  • Chemistry Lab Teaching Assistant. "I have been a TA for General Chemistry I and II. (Chem 110 and 111). I did this for three semesters and look forward to doing it again when I have a permitting schedule."
  • Three-time participant in the Four College Contest, an annual mathematics competition among Ohio Wesleyan, Denison University, Kenyon College, and Wittenberg University. "During the competition, a team of two or three is presented with a test of 10 hard math questions and is allowed two hours to complete as many as possible. The team with the most correct answers wins."
  • Two-time participant in Pitch OWU, a student-entrepreneurship competition with cash prizes awarded to help students pursue their ideas, "both times finishing in the top three positions." In 2023, Johnson collaborated with Ron Netawat '25 of Indore, India, to pitch "SoyShield, Johnson's idea for the soy-based coating.

Why I Chose Ohio Wesleyan?

"I chose OWU for the small school environment in which I can actually have a relationship with my professors so that I could have opportunities such as the internship, research opportunities, and just have an overall personal connection with the professors as opposed to just being a number at a large school.

"I found out about OWU when I was in high school and did a science fair project with a friend of mine who was at OWU at the time. Our project was with microbiology and I was really impressed with the labs and the relationship he has with his professor."

My Plans After Graduation

"Making impacts not only on industry but also on the American farmer will continuously drive me to pursue more research in this field. This ambition may lead me to become a research professor, a career with a company such as Airable, or possibly somewhere completely different."