Putting Science to Work

Penn State puts science to work for Pennsylvania businesses.

A collaboration between snowboard and ski manufacturer Gilson and the Penn State Materials Characterization Lab made it possible for the company to craft its signature design—snowboards and skis with a unique three-dimensional curved surface that adapt fluid and aerodynamic principles to snow.

The company, based in Winfield, Pennsylvania, wouldn’t have gotten off the ground had it not been for the help of material scientists at Penn State. After running into an issue with the adhesives which hold the board and ski layers together, Nick Gilson and his business partner, Austin Royer, consulted with their local Innovative Manufacturers Center, and the duo got connected with Penn State.

Left: man works on the edge of a Gilson snowboard. Right: a snowboarder on white snow.

Images: Gilson

Josh Stapleton, director of Penn State’s Materials Characterization Laboratory housed within the Materials Research Institute, worked directly with Gilson and Royer, making several site visits to the company’s manufacturing facility to understand the issue.

“Josh came out to the shop and had us make different samples, which he then analyzed back in the lab,” Gilson says. “Once we turned the knobs and got the adhesive to work well, we didn’t want to just set it and forget about it. We wanted to understand the science, and Josh helped us do that. We now have a relationship with Penn State and these guys in the MCL, who are not only super smart, but also great people.”   

"Penn State is one of the top materials science institutions in the country," says Stapleton.

The MCL operates as a shared user facility. While many researchers approach the lab knowing exactly what instrument they need, others simply present their problem and the MCL staff guide them to the technology that can solve it.

“Penn State is one of the top materials science institutions in the country,” says Stapleton. “I think it says a lot that our faculty and facilities not only push the cutting edge, but also support real-time economic development.”

Gilson has seen sales grow by 200 percent year after year since its founding in 2013. The company has more than tripled in size each year and was listed in Outside magazine's top six boutique American-made ski and snowboard manufacturers.

Gilson credits their success, which now includes international sales, to the aesthetics and the quality of construction of their boards. Each snow season, members of the Gilson team crisscross the country from mountain to mountain, putting their board into the hands of snowboarding enthusiasts.

“The response to our product—both from a performance perspective and construction perspective—has taken off,” says Gilson. “Since our collaboration we’ve watched our numbers double over and over again.”

The success of this small business and the work of the MCL ties back to the primary tenet of the University—to translate knowledge to society at large.

A man works at a machine drilling holes in wood that will become a Gilson snowboard

Image: Gilson

Jeff Fortin, Associate Vice President for Research and Director of the Office of Industrial Partnerships at Penn State, explains that the work of the students, faculty, and staff associated with the Materials Research Institute is born out of a love to apply resources to help companies, like Gilson, solve challenging problems.

“The Materials Characterization Lab supported over 100 external organizations last year and the number has been growing year over year,” says Fortin. “Many of those are local companies right here in PA. The work done with Gilson is a prime example of why we do what we do and supports the strong focus the University has placed on engaging with industry. It is truly a win-win.”