Understanding how to make small molecules polymerize into long-chain hydrocarbons to form plastics and other synthetics was closely related to the efforts of chemists and engineers to break down and utilize fragments of the long-chain hydrocarbons in petroleum. Scientists active in the area of petrochemicals have shared their knowledge of catalysts and increased the variety and quantity of chemicals usable in polymerization processes that create all sorts of synthetic materials. Such materials—including nylon, Kevlar, and Teflon—are now an integral part of the modern world.
Leo Baekeland, a Belgian-born chemist, invented Bakelite, one of the earliest synthetic polymers to transform the material basis of modern life.
In the early 1920s Hermann Staudinger put forth his macromolecular theory of polymers, which eventually superseded the reigning aggregate theory. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1953 for his discoveries in the field of macromolecular chemistry.
Along with Hermann Staudinger and Wallace Carothers, Herman Mark was a cofounder of polymer science. His X-ray crystallographic studies of cellulose helped establish Staudinger's macromolecular theory of polymers.
Inventor of nylon, Wallace Carothers was a chemist at the Dupont Company whose research helped demonstrate the macromolecular theory of polymers and establish the field of modern polymer science.
Carl Marvel was a synthetic-polymer pioneer who worked in vinyl polymers and contributed significantly to the U.S. synthetic rubber program.
Paul Flory was a Nobel laureate who made important experimental and theoretical contributions to polymer science. His Principles of Polymer Chemistry was the standard reference for polymer chemistry for several decades
Karl Ziegler and Giulio Natta discovered a new process for synthesizing polymers that made a lot of common plastics possible, including high-density polyethylene and polypropylene.
When Roy Plunkett was awarded the Scott Medal by the City of Philadelphia in 1951, every guest at the banquet went home with a muffin tin coated in his invention—Teflon.
Henry Aaron Hill founded National Polychemicals in 1952 to supply chemical intermediates to the burgeoning polymer-products industry for use in various polymerization processes.
Ruth Benerito, a physical chemist, helped the cotton industry compete with new synthetic fibers by discovering a method for creating wrinkle-resistant cotton.
While working as a research scientist at DuPont, Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar, a synthetic fiber of exceptional strength best known for its use in protective ("bullet-proof") vests.
Linneaus Dorman got his start in agricultural chemistry but ended up research synthetic proteins for medical use in the human body. One of his most important inventions was a synthetic protein for replacing bone material.
In a moment of frustration in 1969, Robert W. Gore discovered ePTFE, a synthetic polymer that led to a new direction in material science and gave us such well-known products as GORE-TEX fabric and ELIXIR guitar strings.
One of the most active research frontiers in polymer science is that of biologically compatible synthetic materials. At the cutting edge of this field is Robert Langer.
Polymer science and technology are just two of the areas to which Uma Chowdhry, chief science and technology officer at the DuPont Company, has contributed.
Silicone chemistry captured the imagination of Stephanie Burns, who in 2003 became the first woman president of Dow Corning. A year later she was promoted to CEO.