North Canton resident Russell A. Livigni says winning the 2013 Charles Goodyear Medal for his contributions to the rubber industry and to polymer science was like “going across the goal line in a career.”
The Charles Goodyear award is the highest award given out by the Akron-based Rubber Division of the American Chemical Society. It is named after the man who discovered the vulcanization of rubber. (Frank Seiberling named Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. after Goodyear.)
“I am very honored by the award. I really am,” Livigni said. “It’s a very prestigious award. It is an international award.”
Livigni retired in 1996 as vice president of corporate technology at GenCorp, formerly known as General Tire & Rubber Co. He still does consulting work for the polymer and rubber industry and sits on the advisory board for the University of Akron’s College of Arts & Sciences and the university’s chemistry department.
He is a 1952 graduate of Kenmore High School, where he won the Bausch & Lomb science award.
While in high school, he worked in the credit department of O’Neil’s department store in downtown Akron. The store wanted him to continue working there as a credit manager after he graduated from Kenmore but Livigni decided to pursue his interest in science and went to work instead at Firestone Tire & Rubber Co.’s Synthetic Rubber Development facility.
He received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1956 from the University of Akron, followed by a Ph.D. in polymer science from UA in 1960.
He didn’t always think that science was his calling.
“Man, I thought I was going to be a musician,” said Livigni, who plays the saxophone and clarinet. “I was band leader at Kenmore High School. The last two years, I had a little dance band. We used to play at teen dances.”
A high school chemistry teacher, Jerome Brown, turned him on to becoming a professional chemist, Livigni said. “I was always interested in science, always interested in mathematics.”
His parents were also very supportive while he was a student and through his working career, he said. He recalled that while he was working as a research scientist for Ford Motor Co., his father told him about an Akron Beacon Journal story saying General Tire was opening a new laboratory on Gilchrist Road. Livigni applied for a job and there he stayed.
It was at General Tire that he worked on high trans SBRs (styrene-butadiene rubber), a synthetic rubber. He and his team in the 1970s figured out a way to incorporate barium into the synthesis of the rubber. The outcome was a synthetic substance with many of the same strengths and properties of natural rubber while not oxidizing or degrading the way natural rubber does. The properties of the synthetic rubber are particularly important for the manufacture of radial tires, Livigni said.
“Here’s a rubber that has tremendous benefits,” he said. “It is, I feel, a very significant discovery.”
The “Aha!” moment came after he read technical literature involving barium; he and his team applied the paper’s findings to their work. “The first experiment we got gave us a rubber we could grab a hold … and we could pull it around the room,” Livigni said. “That’s an ‘Aha!’ moment.”
One lesson from that discovery is, technical people need to read all of the literature in their industry, Livigni said. “That’s where you get the ideas.”
GenCorp went through a corporate breakup just as the company was building up to commercializing the new synthetic rubber, he said. The synthetic is being used in tires today, he said.
The Rubber Division awarded the Charles Goodyear Medal to Livigni for his body of work, including the high trans synthetic rubber.
“I think I am the first graduate of the polymer college to get this award,” Livigni said. “It’s a really good thing for Akron, good for me and my associates. And it is a great thing for the University of Akron.”
Livigni, who was born in 1937, has 38 U.S. patents and is the author of numerous technical publications. He sits on various industry and other boards. He also is a member of Queen of Heaven Church in Green.
The Rubber Society will hold its awards banquet as part of its April 22-24, 2013, spring technical meeting in Akron.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org