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Wendy Goodson, Ginkgo Bioworks Inc.

Candidate for MRS Board of Directors

Wendy GoodsonDr. Wendy J. Goodson is currently Senior Director of Government Business Development at Ginkgo Bioworks, Inc. Dr. Goodson earned her PhD in Biology from the University of Michigan in 2000. In 2005, she joined the Biotechnology team at the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate at the Air Force Research Laboratory. Over the next 16 years, she took on many roles at AFRL including Research Leader of the Biological Materials and Processing Research Team, Branch Chief of the Soft Matter Materials Branch, Assistant Chief Scientist, and Acting Chief Scientist. She earned accolades such as the Vincent J Russo Award for Leadership Excellence, AFRL Commander’s Cup Team Award, and the Dept of the Air Force Award for Exemplary Civilian Service. In 2021, Wendy left AFRL to join Ginkgo Bioworks, a 900+ employee, publicly-owned, international biotechnology company that engineers biological organisms to create bioproducts for use in applications such as materials, food and nutrition, agriculture, human health, and solutions for energy, sustainment and climate.

Dr. Goodson’s research has focused on the boundaries between disciplines, especially the intersection of biology and materials science. She’s long been passionate about translating fundamental research to practical applications and has explored this transition in two different areas: biomaterials and biocorrosion. Wendy’s postdoctoral research on cephalopods led to the discovery of a structural protein (reflectin) that is involved in squid camouflage. Research on this protein eventually led her to join the AFRL team, where she sought to understand the structure-function relationships in various biomaterials and also encountered the limitations of scaling biology.

Ten years later, when synthetic biology companies became a reality, Wendy co-led the DoD-funded TriService Synthetic Biology for Materials Team that conducted early applied research on functional biomaterials and interacted with industrial partners to produce biomolecules (at scale!), for integration into optical and composite materials. She joined Ginkgo Bioworks one year ago to explore this transition space from industry’s perspective, and is now responsible for building Government partnerships at Ginkgo. Around the DoD, Dr. Goodson is best known for her contributions to biocorrosion and biodegradation research. For 12 years, she led an AFOSR-funded research group exploring the relationships between materials (polyurethane polymers, steel, aluminum, military coating systems) and microbial physiology (biofilms and single cells), both in the lab and in the field. Her research on decontamination led to the development and testing of aircraft decontamination solutions during the COVID pandemic. 

Dr. Goodson became an MRS Member after joining AFRL in 2005, attending and presenting at biomaterials symposia.  Reflecting her dual interests in biomaterials and biocorrosion, she organized Symposia in 2011 (Biofilm-Material Interactions) and 2018 (Synthetic Biology for Materials) and contributed to the MRS Communications Special Issue on Synthetic Biology. In addition to her work with MRS, she assisted the NAS National Materials and Manufacturing Board in organizing a Forum in Synthetic Biology for Materials and Manufacturing in 2019. She also has served on the NSF Committee of Visitors Review Board, currently serves on the Scientific Advisory Board for the UC-Berkeley Innovative Genomics Institute, and is an ad hoc reviewer for Biofouling, Corrosion, International Biodeterioration and Biodegradation, J. Royal Society Interface, and Microscopy and Microanalysis. At Ginkgo, she was elected to the Caring Committee, a committee that considers ethical and dual usage of biotechnology.  She is also an active member of the American Society for Microbiology.

Candidate's Statement

The Materials Research Society has built a strong reputation as a global, inclusive, interdisciplinary hub of world class materials research. Historically, it has been ahead of its time in pushing initiatives such as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), global outreach, workforce development and education of its membership on major trends in materials science (AI/ML, synthetic biology, etc.) Its commitment to embracing many disciplines–chemistry, physics, biology, math and engineering–make it a vibrant center of engagementa source of new ideas that will enable solutions that will impact global markets and solve major societal and climate issues. We’ve got big things to accomplish…

We can all agree that the pandemic was a major disruptor–to society, to science and engineering, and to the public’s trust in science and engineering. To MRS, it also disrupted an upward trajectory of meeting attendance, the momentum of major initiatives, and in some cases, journal impact factors. As scientists, it set us to work on contributing to real-world problems and solutions, to re-thinking what collaboration means, and to re-inventing how we interact with each other.

Let’s face it – we’re now different scientists in a new world and likewise MRS must pivot and adjust. I believe the post-pandemic reality is an opportunity, not necessarily to reassess the “what and the why” (MRS’ Strategic Objectives), but to re-think the “how”. For example, I believe that MRS could substantially enhance its ability to foster materials solutions to improve the quality of life by capitalizing on the translational science vibe that emerged during the pandemic. It could be more strategic in engagements with industry, venture capital, government agencies, consortia and local governments, exposing its membership to translational research opportunities. It could catalyze workforce development and real world problem solving by hosting competitions for students based on models like the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition. In the same vein, MRS could specifically enhance interdisciplinary research by hosting teaming or solutioning events and engaging investors/funding organizations on topics for grand challenges.

As a Board Member, I believe my role would be to continually lean forward, challenge the ‘hows’, and enable the membership to bring their talents to the post-pandemic reimagining of MRS. Importantly, the Board plays a critical role in assessing priorities (especially what we might stop doing) while ensuring that the core strengths of MRS – communicating exceptional materials research and fostering an exceptional materials research community – is not lost along the way. Leveling the playing field for all, in both the research community and in Governance of MRS, will ensure long term viability of MRS and continue to build a community that will be the source of new materials to serve the world.