sealPurdue Business and Finance Briefs

June 1998

Purdue students invent soybean-based ski wax

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- From the flat farm fields of Indiana comes the latest innovation in alpine skiing -- a soybean-based ski wax that's kinder to the ski slopes because it's petroleum free.

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Invented by two Purdue University sophomores from Indianapolis, "Soy Ski Wax" replaces the paraffin in ski wax with soybean and canola oils. The wax earned food process engineering students Faye Mulvaney and Ryan Howard $2,500 each as part of an innovative uses for soybeans competition sponsored by Purdue's agronomy department and the Indiana Soybean Board.

"We picked ski wax because of the tremendous growth in recreational skiing and snowboarding," Howard says. "We thought the people who like being outdoors also would like a product that doesn't harm the hill or end up in the water."

Coming up with the ski wax idea was the easy part. They knew from the soybean candles and soybean crayons developed in earlier contests that soybean oil could substitute for paraffin in wax. The difficulty was finding the exact formulation that would give the wax the necessary consistency, would work in cold temperatures and would reduce friction.

Once they had a promising mixture, they built a complicated wheel with small skis that would run the wax over a surface over and over again, testing friction and durability. Designing the test equipment was as demanding as making the wax, says Bernie Tao, associate professor in agricultural and biological engineering who mentored the students.

"There is no existing equipment or procedures to test the friction coefficients of skis," Tao says. "I think their equipment could end up being adopted by the ski industry." The testing wheel not only simulated a one-kilometer ski run at 35 miles per hour, it also was designed and wired to run in a refrigerator to simulate real-world conditions.

The ski wax is about 30 percent soybean oil, Mulvaney says. One package of wax would cost about 25 cents to produce.

CONTACTS: Mulvaney, (765) 746-1267; e-mail,; Howard, (765) 463-6665; e-mail,; Tao, (765) 494-1183; e-mail,

40-somethings start to invest in money management

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- In the world of personal finances, old dogs are eager to learn.

"Somewhere around age 45 it starts to hit people in the face that they need to manage their money," says Janet Bechman, Purdue University Extension specialist in consumer sciences. "In fact, in our review of financial management education, we found that the older the participant, the greater the likelihood that he or she would adopt the practices learned."

Bechman notes that many older people who learn skills such as budgeting, record keeping and investing regret not using the techniques in their youth. "Unfortunately, it's very difficult to motivate younger adults into practicing good financial management. Many just don't perceive the need," she says.

Bechman, an accredited financial counselor, has tried to reach the young. As part of a series of seminars in Purdue's School of Chemical Engineering, she preached the message of good money management to graduating seniors. "A few were interested and asked questions -- mostly they wanted to know about investing," she says.

Knowing that maturity and money management go hand-in-hand, Bechman and fellow Purdue researcher Sharon DeVaney, along with Elizabeth Gorham of Utah State University, studied participants in the Women's Financial Information Program (WFIP) sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

WFIP is a seven-week personal financial management course. Nationwide, various public service organizations offer it for free or for a nominal fee. Although targeted at women, men also may participate.

The study compared the pre- and post-assessments of more than 500 individuals who took the course in three states during a 30-month period. Those who participated ranged in age from 20 to 75, with almost half of them between the ages of 45 and 64.

In addition to age, other predictors of whether participants put into practice the things they learned were how confident they felt and whether they filled out the workbook that came with the course.

Bechman says persons learning personal financial management need a coach and cheerleaders. "Attitudes influence actions. Before they took the course, many persons were not at all sure how to get the information they needed to make wise financial decisions," she says. "For many, the program was not only an educational experience but also a support group from which they gained encouragement to take control of their finances."

To find out more about the WFIP, contact the AARP at (202) 434-6030. In Indiana, the WFIP is co-sponsored in many counties by the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service.

CONTACTS: Bechman, (765) 494-8309; home, (765) 583-0659; DeVaney, (765) 494-8300.

Compiled by Kate Walker, (765) 494-2073; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,


Purdue sophomores Faye Mulvaney and Ryan Howard, both of Indianapolis, have invented a mountain-friendly ski wax for snowboarders who like to ride the half-pipes. The food process engineering students substituted biodegradable soybean oil for petroleum-derived paraffin in the wax. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)
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