A History of Plastics
Plastics are synthetic materials that can be molded or shaped into various forms and products. They are made from organic polymers, which are long chains of repeating units called monomers. Plastics have many advantages over other materials, such as being lightweight, durable, versatile, and cheap to produce. However, they also have some disadvantages, such as being non-biodegradable, toxic, and polluting.
The history of plastics can be traced back to the 19th century, when scientists and inventors experimented with natural substances like rubber, cellulose, and casein to create new materials. One of the earliest examples of a plastic was Parkesine, invented by Alexander Parkes in 1856. It was made from nitrocellulose and camphor and could be molded into various shapes when heated. However, it was brittle and flammable and did not become commercially successful.
Another early plastic was Bakelite, invented by Leo Baekeland in 1907. It was made from phenol and formaldehyde and was the first synthetic thermosetting plastic. It could withstand high temperatures and resist electricity, making it suitable for electrical appliances, radios, telephones, and other products. Bakelite was also used for jewelry, buttons, handles, and other decorative items.
In the 1920s and 1930s, new types of plastics were developed, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polystyrene (PS), polyethylene (PE), and nylon. PVC was used for pipes, flooring, clothing, and vinyl records. PS was used for packaging, insulation, toys, and disposable cups. PE was used for bottles, bags, films, and coatings. Nylon was used for textiles, parachutes, ropes, and stockings.
In the 1940s and 1950s, plastics played an important role in World War II and the post-war consumer boom. Plastics were used for military equipment, such as helmets, goggles, tents, and ammunition. They were also used for civilian products, such as furniture, appliances, cars, and toys. Some of the new plastics that emerged in this period were polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polypropylene (PP), polycarbonate (PC), and acrylic.
In the 1960s and 1970s, plastics became more diverse and sophisticated. They were used for medical devices, such as artificial limbs, heart valves, syringes, and implants. They were also used for aerospace applications, such as rockets, satellites, and space suits. Some of the new plastics that emerged in this period were polyurethane (PU), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), epoxy resin (EP), and silicone.
In the 1980s and 1990s, plastics became more environmentally conscious and biodegradable. They were used for recycling purposes, such as making new products from waste plastics or using renewable sources like corn or sugarcane to make bioplastics. They were also used for biotechnology purposes, such as making genetically modified organisms or using enzymes to break down plastics. Some of the new plastics that emerged in this period were polylactic acid (PLA), polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA), starch-based plastic (SBP), and thermoplastic starch (TPS).
In the 21st century, plastics continue to evolve and innovate. They are used for nanotechnology purposes, such as making nanocomposites or nanofibers that have enhanced properties like strength or conductivity. They are also used for smart technology purposes, such as making sensors or actuators that can respond to stimuli like light or heat. Some of the new plastics that are being developed or explored are graphene-based plastic (GBP), liquid crystal polymer (LCP), shape-memory polymer (SMP), and self-healing polymer (SHP).
Plastics have revolutionized many aspects of human life and society. They have enabled us to create new products and applications that were not possible before. They have also improved the quality and convenience of many existing products and services. However, they have also created some challenges and problems that need to be addressed. These include the environmental impact of plastic waste and pollution; the health effects of plastic exposure and ingestion; the social implications of plastic consumption and disposal; and the ethical issues of plastic creation and modification.
Plastics are a fascinating topic to explore and learn more about. They have a rich history that spans over a century and a half. They have a wide range of uses that cover almost every sector and industry. They have a complex nature that involves chemistry,
physics, biology, and engineering.
They have a dynamic future that promises new discoveries and innovations.