BEACHWOOD, Ohio—Judit Puskas took a bit of a circuitous route to becoming the first female recipient of the ACS Rubber Division's Charles Goodyear Medal, the most prestigious honor given by the technical association.
Born in Budapest, Hungary, her career has had stops in her native country, Canada and two previous stints at the University of Akron before landing back at the school for a third time in 2004. She currently is a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and in 2014 was named the Joseph M. Gingo Chair at the university.
Along the way, Puskas has seen that politics can play a disruptive role both in industry and academia, and she hasn't shied away from standing up for herself when facing the discrimination and obstacles scores of females have faced in her profession.
And if that isn't enough intrigue, she and her husband—Gabor Kaszas, who retired last year from Goodyear—at one point had to deal with a request from their home government to engage in industrial espionage, a situation that altered their career paths.
When the Rubber Division honored her during its spring meeting in Beachwood, it cited her work on a variety of polymer and elastomer research that has ranged from working to find a replacement to natural rubber to her current work looking at the integration of breast reconstruction and cancer research.
In between, she has received more than a handful of awards, been published in more than 370 publications, been the inventor or co-inventor of 31 U.S. patents and applications, chaired a number of international conferences, and raised millions in grants, funding and licensing fees that have benefited the institutions where she has taught and performed research.
But that's just a brief snippet of the journey that brought her the Charles Goodyear Medal, and there's no sign that she's looking to slow down.
Educated in a Communist state
Puskas was born in Hungary after World War II, when the Eastern European country still was a Communist nation, a situation that lasted until the revolutions of 1989. The one good thing about Communism, she said, was that women were declared to be equal, meaning they had to work but also had access to advanced educational opportunities.
She was involved in gymnastics and choir, and also enjoyed drawing and painting, but it was at the eighth grade level that her future was steered toward science. Much like the German educational system, it was at this point where teachers helped decide a student's aptitude.