Plastic Materials. The first synthetic plastic in history
Back in 1909, the belgian-american chemist Leo Baekeland made a discovery that still nowdays gave him a reputation of being one of the most influential scientist in history: he discovered the bakelite, the first thermosetting plastic material!
Studying two derivatives of petroleum – phenol and formaldehyde – Baekeland invented a material that even if heated and pressurised, was able to polymerize and to maintain a well-defined structure hardly alterable by thermal induction.
Some of the main features of this first thermosetting material are:
– Material hardeness
– Solvent resistance
– Excellent handling properties
– Extreme versatility: electromechanical and electrical sector (switches and outlets); design and decor industry; automotive industry; etc. etc.
Leo Baekeland – Biography
Son of a cobbler and a house maid, Leo Baekeland was passionate about Chemistry and Physics, acquiring a PhD maxima cum laude at the early age of 21 at the University of Ghent. After he married Céline Swarts in 1889, he moved to America.
In 1905 he started researching for a synthetic alternative for shellac, a natural resin created from the excretion of female lac bug, and invented the bakelite, the first synthetic plastic material in history.
The Time magazine classified him as one of the 100 greatest figures of XX century thanks to his discovery.