Ziegler Develops Low-Pressure Process for Making Polyethylene (Great Events: 1900-2001)
Article abstract: Karl Ziegler discovered that treating ethylene with certain catalysts caused the formation of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) at relatively low temperatures and pressures.
The Development of Synthetic Polymers
In 1841, August Wilhelm von Hofmann completed his Ph.D. with Justus von Liebig, a German chemist and founding father of organic chemistry. One of Hofmann’s students, William Henry Perkin, discovered that coal tars could be used to produce brilliant dyes. The German chemical industry, under Hofmann’s leadership, soon took the lead in this field, primarily because the discipline of organic chemistry was much more developed in Germany than elsewhere.
The realities of the early twentieth century found the chemical industry struggling to produce synthetic substitutes for natural materials that were in short supply, particularly rubber. Rubber is a natural polymer, a material composed of a long chain of small molecules that are linked chemically. An early synthetic rubber, neoprene, was one of many synthetic polymers (some others were Bakelite, polyvinyl chloride, and polystyrene) developed in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Another polymer, polyethylene, was developed in 1936 by Imperial Chemical Industries. Polyethylene was a tough, waxy material that was produced at high temperature and at pressures of about one thousand atmospheres. Its method of production made the material expensive,...
(The entire section is 970 words.)
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