Ruth R. Benerito
Ruth Mary Rogan Benerito
Ruth Mary Rogan
January 12, 1916
|Died||October 5, 2013(aged 97)|
|Alma mater||Sophie Newcomb College, Tulane University|
|Known for||Wrinkle-free fiber|
|Awards||Garvan Medal, Lemelson-MIT Prize, National Inventors Hall of Fame|
|Fields||Physical chemistry of surfaces and colloids|
|Institutions||University of Chicago, USDA Southern Regional Research Center, Tulane University, University of New Orleans.|
|Doctoral advisor||Thomas F. Young|
Ruth Mary Rogan Benerito (January 12, 1916 – October 5, 2013) was an American chemist and inventor known for her work related to the textile industry, notably including the development of wash-and-wear cotton fabrics. She held 55 patents.
Ruth Mary Rogan Benerito was born and raised in New Orleans in 1916. Her father, John Edward Rogan, was a civil engineer and railroad official and was described by his daughter as a pioneer in women's liberation. Her mother, Bernadette Elizardi Rogan, was an artist and considered a "truly liberated woman" by her daughter. Both parents were college graduates and imposed their values regarding a strong sense of education and women's rights onto Ruth.
The Great Depression era surrounded Ruth Benerito's early years and when she eventually received her B.S. in Chemistry, one in five Americans was unemployed. Benerito's original interest preceding chemistry was math; however, she did not want to foster a career as an actuary simply estimating probabilities for insurance companies, which led her to study chemistry.
Later in her life as she reflected on her many achievements, the true essence of her character was illustrated when she said, "I believe that whatever success that I have attained is the result of many efforts of many people. My very personal success was built from the help and sacrifices of members of my family, and professional accomplishments resulted from the efforts of early teachers and the cooperativeness of colleagues too many to enumerate."
In an age when girls did not usually go on to higher education, her father made sure his daughters received the same education available to boys. Benerito completed high school at age 14 and entered Sophie Newcomb College, the women's college at Tulane University, at age 15 where she earned a degree in chemistry, as well as physics and math. She graduated in 1935 and moved to Bryn Mawr College to complete one year of graduate studies.
She then moved to Newcomb, where she taught chemistry while researching advanced quantitative analysis and physical chemistry, organic chemistry, kinetics, and thermodynamics. While working as a teacher, Benerito took night classes to earn her master's degree from Tulane University. In 1948 she received her doctorate degree from the University of Chicago, where she conducted physical chemical research under the direction of Thomas F. Young. Her Ph.D dissertation was titled "Activity Coefficients of HCl in Ternary Aqueous Solutions". She left her job as an assistant professor in Newcomb College in 1953 to work at the USDA Southern Regional Research Center of the US Department of Agriculture in New Orleans, where she spent most of her career.
At the USDA she worked in the Intravenous Fat Program of the OilSeed Laboratory, and in 1955 she was promoted to project leader. In 1958 she was promoted to acting head of the Colloid Cotton Chemical Laboratory, and in 1959 she became the research leader of the Physical Chemistry Research Group of the Cotton Reaction Laboratory. Benerito completed a postdoc in 1972 in biophysics at Tulane University. Still at Tulane, she was an adjunct professor from 1960 to 1981. During that time, she also worked as a lecturer at the University of New Orleans. In later years, while she was researching cotton fibers, Benerito taught classes part-time at Tulane University and at the University of New Orleans.
Invention of wrinkle-free cotton
Benerito is most famous for her work relating to the use of mono-basic acid chlorides in the production of cotton, with which she had 55 patents. She invented these wash-and-wear cotton fabrics, which allow for more wrinkle-free and durable clothing, while working at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) laboratories in New Orleans in the 1950s. Before this innovation, a family needed considerable time to iron clothes. Benerito found a way to chemically treat the surface of cotton that led not only to wrinkle-resistant fabric but also to stain- and flame-resistant fabrics. The invention was said to have "saved the cotton industry."
While she is publicly credited for the invention of winkle-free fiber, she did not believe she singlehandedly invented it. She clarified her role in a 2004 USDA interview by stating, "I don't like it to be said that I invented wash-wear because there were any number of people worked on it and the various processes by which you give cotton those properties. No one person discovered it or is responsible for it, but I contributed to a new process of doing it."
The secret of the invention is the use of a process called crosslinking. Cotton is composed of a material called cellulose. Like synthetic nylon and polyester fibers, cellulose is a polymer; that is, its molecules are shaped like long chains containing many thousands of atoms. The long, chainlike shape of the molecules is what makes cellulose, like nylon and polyester, a good fiber. Benerito discovered a way to treat cotton fibers so that the chainlike cellulose molecules were joined together chemically. This procedure is known as crosslinking, and it makes cotton resistant to wrinkling. Her innovation was discovering an additive that chemically attached to cellulose chains and smoothed the surface.
It was first thought that crosslinking was making the cotton fabric wrinkle resistant by strengthening its fibers, but the amount of crosslinking used in Benerito's treatment is small and does not add much strength. She developed a new theory on how crosslinking works. It is known that cellulose molecules can stick to each other by means of the weak hydrogen bonds between molecules. She proposed that one side effect of her crosslinking process was the strengthening of the hydrogen bonds, which made the material resistant to wrinkling.
Method of feeding seriously wounded soldiers
Besides her contribution to textile industry, during the Korean War, Benerito developed a way to give fat intravenously to patients who were too sick to eat—a method used to feed seriously wounded soldiers.
- 1964 USDA Distinguished Service Award
- 1968 Federal Woman Award
- 1968 Southern Chemist Award
- 1970 Garvan Medal
- 1971 Southwest Regional Award of American Chemical Society
- 1981 Honorary degree, Tulane University
- 1984 Woman of Achievement at World's Fair
- 2002 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2008 National Inventors Hall of Fame induction
- Fox, Margalit (7 October 2013). "Ruth Benerito, Cotton Chemist of Permanent Press Renown, Dies at 97". New York Times. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
- Denmark, Bonnie. "Profiles in Science Ruth Benerito: Using Basic Physical Chemistry to Solve Practical Problems". VisionLearning. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
- Grinstein, L. S.; Rose, R. K.; Rafailovich, M. H. Women in Chemistry and Physics Westport 1993
- "Federal Women's Program : USDA ARS". www.ars.usda.gov. Retrieved 2018-01-17.
- Bailey, Martha J. (1994). American Women in Science:A Biographical Dictionary. ABC-CLIO, Inc. ISBN 0-87436-740-9.
- "Ruth Benerito". Science History Institute. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
- Swaby, Rachel (2015). Headstrong : 52 women who changed science-- and the world (First ed.). New York. ISBN 978-0-553-44679-1. OCLC 886483944.
- Miller, Stephen (7 October 2013). "Scientist Ruth Benerito Ironed Out Wrinkle Problem With Easy-Care Cotton". The Wall Street Journal. p. A8. Retrieved 11 August 2020.
- "US Patent for Glassy materials from plumbites and cellulosics Patent (Patent # 4,046,953 issued September 6, 1977) - Justia Patents Search". patents.justia.com.
- Chawkins, Steve (2013-10-12). "Obituary: Ruth Benerito, 97; chemist helped develop wrinkle-resistant cotton". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2013-11-21.
- "The Woman Who Changed America's Social Fabric ... With Actual Fabric". The Atlantic. October 7, 2013. Retrieved October 7, 2013.