Roy J. Plunkett

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Roy J. Plunkett
Born (1910-06-26)June 26, 1910
New Carlisle, Ohio, United States
Died May 12, 1994(1994-05-12) (aged 83)
Corpus Christi, Texas, United States
Nationality American
Fields Organic chemistry
Institutions DuPont
Known for Teflon®

Roy J. Plunkett (June 26, 1910 – May 12, 1994) was an American chemist. He discovered polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) in 1938.

Plunkett was born in New Carlisle, Ohio and attended Newton High School, Manchester University (BA chemistry 1932) and Ohio State University (Ph.D. chemistry 1936).[1] In 1936 he was hired as a research chemist by E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company at their Jackson Laboratory in Deepwater, New Jersey.

External audio
“From stove tops to outer space... Teflon® touches every one of us some way almost every day.”, Roy Plunkett, Chemical Heritage Foundation
Teflon® thermal cover showing impact craters, from NASA Ultra Heavy Cosmic Ray Experiment (UHCRE)

The discovery of Teflon® is best described in Plunkett's own words:[2]

On the morning of April 6, 1938, Jack Rebok, my assistant, selected one of the TFE cylinders that we had been using the previous day and set up the apparatus ready to go. When he opened the valve — to let the TFE gas flow under its own pressure from the cylinder — nothing happened. Jack called me over and asked whether we had used all the TFE from that cylinder. I said, I don't think so. We both tinkered with the valve a bit, and then thinking it might be stuck or closed in some way, we disconnected the cylinder from the line and pushed a wire through the valve opening. Still no TFE came out, although the weight of the cylinder showed that there was material inside. We were in a quandary. I couldn't think of anything else to do under the circumstances, so we unscrewed the valve from the cylinder. By this time it was pretty clear that there wasn't any gas left. I carefully tipped the cylinder upside down, and out came a whitish powder down onto the lab bench. We scraped around some with the wire inside the cylinder — or maybe I tapped it — I don't remember which — to get some more of the powder. What I got out that way certainly didn't, add up, so I knew there must be more, inside. Finally, more out of curiosity I suppose than anything else, we decided to cut open the cylinder. When we did, we found more of the powder packed onto the bottom and lower sides of the cylinder.

Plunkett further relates that the cylinders of TFE being used contained about 1 kg each (2.2 pounds) which would be relatively small, lecture bottle sized cylinders, not large cylinders.

The tetrafluoroethylene in the container had polymerized into polytetrafluoroethylene, a waxy solid with amazing properties such as resistance to corrosion, low surface friction, and high heat resistance. Plunkett related the story of this accidental discovery at the spring meeting of the American Chemical Society national meeting in the History of Chemistry section, April 1986 in New York City which was published in the Symposium Proceedings.

He was the chief chemist involved in the production of tetraethyllead, a gasoline additive, at DuPont's Chambers Works from 1939 to 1952. After that he directed Freon production at DuPont before retiring in 1975.

Plunkett received the John Scott Medal from the city of Philadelphia in 1951, for an invention promoting the "comfort, welfare, and happiness of human kind". Attendees were given a Teflon-coated muffin tin to take home.[3] Other awards and honors followed. Plunkett was inducted to the Plastics Hall of Fame in 1973[4] and the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1985.[5]

Plunkett died on May 12, 1994 at his Texas home at the age of 83.[1][6] He is survived by his two sons Michael and Patrick, and two grandsons, Benjamin and Kyle.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Inventor profile". National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation, Inc. 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-10. 
  2. ^ Plunkett, RJ The History of Polytetrafluoroethylene: Discovery and Development, pages 261-266 in "High Performance Polymers: Their Origin and Development. Proceedings of the Symposium on the History of High Performance Polymers at the American Chemical Society Meeting held in New York, April 15–18, 1986." Seymour RB and Kirshenbaum GS, Editors, Elsevier, New York, 1986. ISBN 0-444-01139-0
  3. ^ "Roy J. Plunkett". Chemical Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 21 October 2013. 
  4. ^ "Roy J. Plunkett". The Plastics Academy's Hall of Fame. Retrieved 21 October 2013. 
  5. ^ "DuPont Heritage Timeline: 1938 Roy Plunkett". DuPont. Retrieved 21 October 2013. 
  6. ^ "Dr. Roy J. Plunkett: Discoverer of Fluoropolymers". The Fluoropolymers Division Newsletter (Summer): 1–2. 1994.