Perseverance, as much as ingenuity, drove the four new posthumous members of the Plastics Hall of Fame to great heights, speakers said at an induction ceremony.
Hermann Staudinger, Hermann Schell, Alan MacDiarmid and John Swallow went into the Plastics Hall of Fame in a May 4 ceremony to close out the Society of Plastics Engineers award night banquet, during SPE's Antec conference in Milwaukee.
The hall is housed in Leominster, Mass., at the National Plastics Center.
Staudinger, a German, coined the term ``polymerization'' in a 1920 technical paper. In 1953, he won the Nobel Prize for chemistry for his groundbreaking work to prove that monomers can be joined together to create chains of polymers — long molecules that he dubbed ``macromolecules.''
In brief remarks, Franz Brandstetter, head of BASF AG's polymer research competency center, said Staudinger's theories about giant molecules was considered radical in the 1920s. ``He met with strong resistance from the scientific community,'' Brandstetter said. But Staudinger persevered, and his research ushered in the era of polymer science.
Staudinger died in 1965.
Schnell invented polycarbonate as a scientist at Germany's Bayer AG in 1953. He also invented aromatic PCs, making possible injection molded PC parts, extruded sheet and other new applications.
Speaking about Schnell was Hartmut LÃ¶wer, senior vice president for global innovations in polycarbonate for Bayer MaterialScience AG. He said Schnell kept up his enthusiasm for innovation, and for the early PC, a slightly yellowish but unbreakable polymer, despite skepticism from the naysayers.
``Schnell is quoted to have said: `It's not enough to make an invention. You have to recognize that you made one, and you need to have the energy and the stamina to fight for it,''' LÃ¶wer said.
Schnell died in 1999.
MacDiarmid shared the 2000 Nobel Prize with Alan Heeger and Hideki Shirakawa for discovering that polymers — known since the early days as excellent insulators — could actually conduct electricity. That led to products like rechargeable batteries, light emitting diodes, and scores of potential applications that will become commercial in the future.
MacDiarmid died Feb. 7, 2007.
His widow, Gayl Gentile of Philadelphia, said a few words at the Milwaukee ceremony.
``In the middle of the 1970s, Alan was a dedicated chemistry professor at the University of Pennsylvania, when he discovered that plastic could conduct electricity. As the father of synthetic metals, he continued his research in this field for the rest of his life,'' she said.
In the 1930s, John Swallow of England, saw the significance of a ``waxy solid'' later known as polyethylene — discovered by Reginald Gibson and Eric Fawcett. The discovery was patented in the United Kingdom in 1938, followed by the first ton of PE two years later, and full production in 1939.
Swallow was named research director of the Plastics Group at Imperial Chemical Industries plc in 1942.
Early on, one promising application for PE was an insulator for trans-Atlantic cables, an improvement upon the coated rubber then in use. But soon, that got eclipsed by World War II, according to John Russell, chairman of the Plastics Historical Society in the United Kingdom in London, who spoke in Milwaukee.
During the war, PE played a key role in radar used on airplanes to pinpoint German submarines, Russell said. Both sides had ground-based radar to show planes in the sky. ``But radar in the air, we had it but the Germans didn't,'' he said. Air-based radar needed a much higher frequency than that based on the ground.
Tracking subs ``stopped the harassment across the Atlantic for both America and the U.K. It was a very, important weapon, which polyethylene made possible,'' Russell said.
Swallow died in 1968.