Plastics are Interesting things! – Crazy Life Hacks

Plastics are Interesting things!

Plastics have become a integral part of our life. Nearly everything we use has plastic one way or other; it has plastic components or the enclosing is plastic! So common are they that few people take time to think of their origins and how they came to play such a critical role in our lives.

The development of plastics is believed to have its origins in 1860, when Phelan and Collander, a United States pool and billiard ball company, put out a prize of $10 000 to anybody who could design the best natural substitute to natural ivory. John Wesley Hyatt developed cellulose for the contest which was later patented as “celluloid” and become a commercial success. It was used for the manufacturer of many products ranging from men’s shirt collars to dental plates.

In the following decades, more plastics were developed including rayon; a modified natural polymer is made from cellulose products. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Leo Hendrik Baekeland, developed the world’s first wholly synthetic plastic. In 1920, a German chemist made a major breakthrough in the development of plastics when he hypothesized that plastics were composed of very large molecules with strong chemical bonds. This gave a fresh impetus to the research on plastics during the 1920’s and 1930’s, resulting in the design of many new interesting things, plastic including Lucite or Plexiglas, nylon and polytetrafluoroethylene which was marketed under the brand name Teflon’ in the 1950’s.

Nylon was developed by Wallace H. Carothers of DuPont while its use was discovered by Julian Hill a DuPont chemist. Teflon was discovered by Roy Plunkett, a DuPont researcher by chance, while preparing a refrigerant in 1938. The polymeric material was found to be chemically inert and resistant to extreme heat. It is interesting to note that Teflon was first used in the atomic bomb project during WWII to make gaskets that were inert to highly corrosive gases especially the UF6 used to purify uranium. Today, it is used in a wide variety of applications including as the non-stick coating on cookware.

Major advances in the field of plastics were made during the WWII as many countries were struck by lack of natural raw materials, interestingly turned to plastics for substitutes. German developed synthetic rubber as a substitute for latex rubber. The United States cut off from the supply of silk, natural rubber and metals from Far East also turned to the plastic industry. Nylon was used in fabrics and polyesters were employed in the manufacture of amour and many other war materials.

The momentum gained during the war was maintained after the war and plastics were being used in place of metals in many things including machinery, safety helmets and some high temperature devices. In 1953, Karl Ziegler, a German chemist, developed polyethylene and in 1954, Giulio Natta, an Italian chemist, developed polypropylene. Today, these are the most commonly used plastics.

The search for new and interesting things plastic is on going, and new and interesting ways to use available plastics are ever being developed thereby replacing other materials like metal, glass and wood. The future belongs to plastics and polymers.