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Roy J. Plunkett ( 1910 - 1994 )  Category ( Chemists ) [suggest a correction]

Roy J. Plunkett was born on June 26, 1910 on a farm in New Carlisle, Ohio. He attended Manchester College, which was run by the Church of the Brethren. He roomed with Paul Flory, who went on to win the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1984. Plunkett received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Manchester in 1932. From there, he went on to Ohio State University to earn his master’s degree in 1933 and his Ph.D. in 1936.

After completing his degrees at Ohio State, Plunkett went to work for E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company. He worked in the Jackson Laboratory in Deepwater, New Jersey. His assignment at du Pont involved researching chlorofluorocarbon refrigerant compounds. These were at the time beginning to replace poisonous sulfur dioxide and ammonia as coolants.

On April 6, 1938, Plunkett and his assistant, Jack Rebok, checked on a 100 pound container of tetrafluoroethylene gas. One of the cylinders of gas did not discharge when they opened the valve. It seemed that the cylinder was empty, but they weighed it and found that it had not lost any mass.

Plunkett and Rebok opened the cylinder and found that the gas had solidified into a white powder. Plunkett decided to test the properties of the solid and found that it was slippery, chemically inert, and had a very high melting point.

Eventually, they discovered that the tetrafluoroethylene had polymerized into polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). It formed a chain of carbons that was protected by the sheltering fluorine atoms. The result was a very strong, frictionless substance. Plunkett then invented a way to efficiently create the polymer. It was patented in 1941 under the trade name Teflon.

By 1946, du Pont was manufacturing the first products with Teflon. Initially, it was mostly used as a lubricant for machine parts. In the 1960s, Teflon was added to cookware making the first non-stick pots and pans.

In 1939, Plunkett became a chief chemist at Du Pont’s Chamber Works. This was the largest of Du Pont’s plants in terms of employees and production and was also in Deepwater, New Jersey. He was in charge of producing tetraethyl lead, the gasoline additive. He then worked on Freon production until retiring in 1975.

Plunkett was inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame in 1973 for his discovery of Teflon. He was also inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 1985. He died on May 12, 1994. He was 84 years old.

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