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Great Engineers & Scientists

In 1676, Sir Isaac Newton wrote "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants." In this blog, we take Newton's words to heart, and recognize the many great engineers and scientists upon whose shoulders we stand.

So who do you think of when you hear "Great Engineer"? Let us know! Submit a few paragraphs about that person and we'll add him or her to the pantheon. Please provide a citation for the material that you submit so that we can verify it. Please note - it has to be original material. We cannot publish copywritten material or bulk text taken from books or other sites (including Wikipedia).

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Roy J. Plunkett

Posted May 06, 2006 1:41 PM
Pathfinder Tags: June 26 May 12

Roy J. Plunkett was born on June 26, 1910 in New Carlisle, Ohio, a small city in the southwestern part of the state. The son of a struggling farmer, Plunkett studied during the Great Depression at Manchester College, a small liberal arts institution in northern Indiana. As an undergraduate, Plunkett roomed with Paul Lory, a chemist would later win the Nobel Prize for his work with polymers. After receiving a B.A. in 1932 and an M.A. in 1933, Plunkett left Manchester College for the Ohio State University, where he earned a Ph.D. in chemistry. In 1936, Plunkett went to work for E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co at the Jackson Laboratory in Deepwater, New Jersey. Plunkett remained with the chemical giant until his retirement over 50 years later.

As a chemist at Jackson Lab, Plunkett researched chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), new refrigerants that would ultimately replace older compounds such as sulfur dioxide and ammonia. With the help of Jack Rebok, his technical assistant, Plunkett produced 100-pound cylinders of tetrafluoroethylene gas (TFE) for storage at cryogenic temperatures. On April 6, 1938, the failure of a cylinder's release valve led to an amazing discovery. Although the container was emptied of gas, its weight remained the same. Ignoring the risk of explosion, Plunkett and Rebok opened the cylinder to find a white powder which, though not a refrigerant, was heat resistant and chemically inert. This substance, which DuPont later marketed as Teflon*, also had a low surface friction that prevented the adhesion of most other substances.

Although Teflon is best known as a non-stick coating for pots and pans, Plunkett's polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) was first used to help win World War II. Under the leadership of General Leslie Groves, the Manhattan Project used two-thirds of all the PTFE that DuPont could produce to separate uranium isotopes via gaseous infusion. The remaining quantities of the substance that Groves codenamed K416 were used in proximity bombs, airplane engines, and explosives. Plunkett, who was promoted to supervisor soon after his accidental discovery, also contributed to the war effort through his work with tetraethyl lead (TEL), an additive used to improve the octane rating of fuels. Although TEL is no longer used in gasoline, Teflon is used in a myriad of household products ranging from clothes to cleaners.

Roy J. Plunkett devoted the remainder of his career to designing fluorochemical products for DuPont. He was awarded Philadelphia's Scott Medal in 1960, named to the Plastics Hall of Fame in 1983, and received other numerous honors. Ten years after retiring from DuPont, he was named to the Inventors Hall of Fame in 1985. On May 12, 1994, Plunkett died at the age of 84.

*Teflon is a registered trademark of DuPont.

Resources:

http://web.mit.edu/Invent/iow/plunkett.html

http://www.chemheritage.org/classroom/chemach/plas tics/plunkett.html

http://www.manchester.edu/Common/AboutManchester/E xcept.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teflon

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Power-User

Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 104
#1

Introduciton, please.

05/08/2006 11:04 AM

Does anyone else find that these mini bios are missing an introductary summary? With all the information I am inendated with on a daily basis, I will probably only read a bio on somone I don't know if I can easily identify why they are important enough to read about. News stories have headlines, in like manner I certainly think a little intro or at least a bulleted list of significant accomplishments should be added to said bios.

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Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 121
#2
In reply to #1

Re:Introduciton, please.

05/08/2006 12:13 PM

I gotta agree. Simply saying "Roy J. Plunkett, Inventor of Teflon", would have been enough for me. I really like these pieces and will read them, but I too like a little background info to enter the post with.

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