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Allan S. Hay

  • Born: July 23, 1929, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0057
Interview Date: July 24, 1986
Location: Schenectady, New York
Interviewers: Leonard W. Fine and George Wise
No. of pages: 65
Minutes: 180

  Abstract of Interview

Allan S. Hay begins the interview with a description of his secondary and undergraduate education in Alberta. After briefly describing his graduate work at the University of Illinois and a summer job at DuPont, he begins the story of his career at General Electric. There, after only a very short time, he was able to oxidize xylenol to synthesize PPO. Hay focuses on the practical applications as well as the chemical aspects of the progress that occurred in plastics research (including the developments of Noryl and Ultem) during his career as both a research chemist and a manager at G.E. He concludes with a bit of insight into what lies ahead in polymer research and development.


1950 B.Sc., Chemistry, University of Alberta
1952 M.Sc., Chemistry, University of Alberta
1955 Ph.D., Chemistry, University of Illinois

  Professional Experience

University of Alberta

1950 - 1952 Instructor

General Electric Company

1955 - 1968 Research Chemist

General Electric Company

1968 - 1980 Manager, Chemical Laboratory, Research and Development Center

General Electric Company

1980 Research and Development Manager, Chemical Science and Engineering

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

1975 Adjunct Professor, Polymer Science and Engineering Department


1970 Fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences
1975 International Award in Plastics Science and Engineering, Society of Plastics Engineers
1977 Rauscher Memorial Lecturer, Society of Plastics Engineers
1981 Fellow of the Royal Society of London
1984 Achievement Award, Industrial Research Institute
1985 Carothers Award
1985 Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Family and Education 1

Interest in chemistry begins during secondary school in Alberta, where advanced courses are available. Attends the University of Alberta and becomes interested in organic chemistry and is mentored by Reuben B. Sandin. On Sandin's recommendation, pursues graduate work at the University of Illinois. Introduced to industrial chemistry through summer employment at DuPont.

Research Chemist at General Electric 11

Recruited from Illinois by John Elliott. Given tremendous freedom and independence. Works on oxidation of xylenes and with phthalic acids. Misses out on patent opportunity. Research on oxidation of phenols and xylenol leads to synthesis of PPO. Controversy in Pittsfield over whether any resources should be shifted from polycarbonates to PPO. Attempts to synthesize completely aromatic polymer lead to polymerization of cylcohexanone (P3O). PPO plant built, but manufactured products not successful. Discovery that PPO and polystyrene are miscible leads to rubber toughened blend? Noryl.

Manager at General Electric 38

Discovery of polyformals. Interaction with academia. Various consultants. Lack of presence of polymers in most college chemistry curricula. Development of Ultem. Very little interaction with corporate competitors. Currently trying to develop high performance composites for military applications and sports equipment. Maintains identity as organic chemist, not merely polymer specialist.

  About the Interviewer

Leonard W. Fine

Leonard Fine is professor of chemistry and director of undergraduate studies in chemistry at Columbia University. His special interests include polymer chemistry and materials science, industrial inorganic and organic chemistry, engineering plastics, problems in solid waste management and the recovery and recycling of post-consumer plastics. Among his recent publications are two practical manuals on principles and practices of infrared spectroscopy and a general chemistry textbook for engineers and scientists. He holds a B.S. in chemistry from Marietta College and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Maryland at College Park.

George Wise

George Wise is a communications specialist at the General Electric Research and Development Center in Schenectady, New York. He holds a B.S. in engineering physics from Lehigh University, an M.S. in physics from University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. in history from Boston University. He worked briefly as a systems engineer before entering his current career in public relations. He has published a book and several articles about the history of industrial research, invention and science. His current research interest is how people can learn from history.

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