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Roy Plunkett

AKA Roy Joseph Plunkett

Born: 26-Jun-1910
Birthplace: New Carlisle, OH
Died: 12-May-1994
Location of death: Corpus Christi, TX
Cause of death: Illness

Gender: Male
Religion: Christian [1]
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Chemist, Inventor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Accidentally discovered Teflon

While working at DuPont's research laboratories, American chemist Roy Plunkett conducted numerous experiments involving refrigeration gases, and headed teams that developed new fluorochemical products and processes that are now used in applications including aerosol, aerospace, electronics, plastics, and refrigeration. His most famous work sprang from a failed refrigerant experiment on 6 April 1938, when he found that an unexpected chemical reaction had occurred. A small quantity of gaseous tetrafluoroethylene had "polymerized" to form polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) resin, a white, waxy substance which proved to be extremely heat-tolerant and stick-resistant.

Better known now by the trade names Teflon or Fluon, PTFE was used during World War II in artillery shell fuses, and in the top-secret production of nuclear matter for the Manhattan Project. Non-stick cookware derived from PTFE was first manufactured in the mid-1950s, and in 1976 Robert Gore co-invented a technique to expand PTFE and bind it in micro-structures called Gore-Tex. Other applications of PTFE have included stain-repellant for carpets, clothing, and furniture; plumber's tape for watertight seals in pipe joints; heavy-duty insulation for wiring and cables; water-sealing for the underside of metals; barrels and bottles for holding corrosive industrial materials; and as the flexible, cold-resistant fabric of space suits worn by astronauts off-planet. It is also an essential component of dental floss.

Plunkett, who was a close friend of chemist Paul J. Flory, retired from DuPont in 1975, and died in 1994.


[1] Church of the Brethren.

Father: Joseph Plunkett
Mother: Elizabeth Garst ("Bessie", m. 1909)
Wife: Lois Koch

    High School: Newton Township High School, Pleasant Hill, OH (1928)
    University:
BA Chemistry, Manchester College Indiana (1932)
    University: MS Chemistry, Ohio State University (1933)
    University: PhD Organic Chemistry, Ohio State University (1936)

    DuPont Director of Operations, Freon & Organic Chemicals Div. (1970-75)
    DuPont Director of R&D (1960-70)
    DuPont Mgr, Chemical Development Div. (1952-60)
    DuPont Ass't Mgr, Chamber Works Facility (1950-52)
    DuPont Superintendent, Chamber Works Facility (1945-50)
    DuPont Supervising Chemist, Chamber Works Facility (1939-45)
    DuPont Research Chemist, Jackson Laboratory (1936-39)
    Franklin Institute's John Scott Medal 1951
    NAM Modern Pioneer Award 1965
    AIC Chemical Pioneering Award 1969
    Moissan Award for Fluorine Chemistry 1986
    SPE John W. Hyatt Award 1988
    Plastics Hall of Fame 1973
    National Inventors Hall of Fame 1985


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