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Patricia Billings: From Artist to Inventor

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Question: how does one go from amateur artist to engineering virtuoso without any formal training? Invent the most revolutionary substance in the history of modern construction, of course. Such is the story of Patricia Billings, chairman of the board and director of technology for GeoBond International Inc., who in her late 50s invented GeoBond, a building material that is both indestructible and fireproof.

Born in Clinton, Missouri, in 1926, Billings spent most of her life as an aspiring artist and sculptor. She spent her undergraduate career at Amarillo College, a community college in Amarillo, Texas, where she studied art. Much of her time during the three decades she was a practicing artist was dedicated to sculpting figures from plaster of Paris.

Unfortunately, her career as an artist was cut short one day when one of her sculpted pieces, a swan figure which she had spent months working on, suddenly cracked and shattered into pieces. Her months of painstaking design and work had been undone in an instant, leaving her frustrated and in search of a permanent resolution.

This was back in the 1970s when material technology was far more primitive than it is today, thanks in large part to the contributions of inventors like Billings. So what did Billings do?

She decided to take the situation literally into her own hands and spent the next eight years carefully and methodically testing her own material mixture which was specifically designed to be less fragile than plaster of Paris.

How did she do it? The old adage of looking backward to move forward seems apt in describing her approach, for she spent a good deal of time researching the development of plaster of Paris, discovering that muralists of the Renaissance era had used the plaster in tandem with a cement-like substance. Artists like Michelangelo had used a cement additive while working with plaster to give their work more longevity.

Experimenting with a variety of materials and measurements in her basement, Billings eventually emerged triumphant with a substance she named ''GeoBond.'' She first developed a milky additive serving as a catalyst, which, when added to a mixture of gypsum and concrete, became an indestructible plaster.

At the time, Billings thought she had simply created a foolproof plaster which would serve other artists like herself. It was a scientist friend of hers who pointed out to her that her developed mixture was also highly resistant to heat. Several years later, the substance was perfected and ready to be unveiled on the market. It would be some time, however, before she received a patent for her discovery, which did not happen until 1997.

GeoBond has attracted the attention of a multitude of industries and organizations whose livelihood depends upon the construction of nearly indestructible designs. The U.S. Air Force has itself spent a great deal of resources testing GeoBond, arriving at the conclusion that it is in fact virtually indestructible and can withstand temperatures over 6,500 degrees. It has also been noted as being able to withstand a 2,000-degree flame for four hours, remaining lukewarm.

GeoBond has also come to produce unexpected benefits, including serving as a nontoxic alternative to asbestos, which has been deemed a cancer-causing agent by the FDA. It has found its most widespread patronage, however, from businesses in search of a more durable way to build bridges, aircraft, and building materials, in addition to individual artists who use the substance to make firm sculptures and other art pieces.

In addition to being virtually indestructible, GeoBond is also incredibly malleable, can be shaped in any number of ways, and can be made to look like cork, slate, or marble. GeoBond has also been successfully translated into stucco, roof tiles, and insulation and has quickly become a favorite with engineers and construction crews as the compound of choice to repair concrete and patch highways.

Though the greatest potential of her invention has been borne out in the engineering industry, Billings’s first love has always been art, and in keeping with her passion she has recently developed a new product called CraftCote which utilizes the GeoBond technology in an art-centric manner.

Today, in her early 80s and a great-grandmother, Billings maintains sway over the direction of her Kansas City-based company, refusing to give in to market pressures and committed to building on the quality of her great invention. Indeed, her preferred method of operation is to stay small, honest, and humble, decrying as she does the building trades industry, which she views as overtly corrupt and based in greed.

She urges students in the industry to prioritize ethics and honesty in all aspects of their academic and professional practices, observing, ''Corporate America needs to clean up its act. The labeling on building materials for home construction is often erroneous, and the materials can be dangerous.''
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