Posted on April 6, 2014
On this date in 1938, Dr. Roy Plunket and his assistant were working in the DuPont lab in New Jersey. They couldn't get the TFE gas to flow from its cylinder as usual, so they investigated the cylinder, pushing a wire through the valve opening in case there was a blockage, unscrewing the valve, and finally cutting open the cylinder.
They found that the TFE gas had become a waxy solid. Instead of just chucking away the now-ruined cylinder and grabbing another container of TFE gas, and going on with what they were SUPPOSED to be doing, Plunket and his assistant took the time to investigate the polymerized substance.
And what they found was good: It resisted corrosion. It was really slippery. It had high heat resistance. It seemed like something that could be very handy!
The TFE gas they expected to find is TetraFluoroEthylene, and the polymerized solid they did find is PolyTetraFluoroEthylene, or PTFE.
But once DuPont decided to market cookware coated with the stuff, a much shorter name was needed. You're probably way ahead of me at this point: DuPont decided to call the coating Teflon.
There are other PTFE coatings, with other names and put out by other companies. Also, PTFE is used as a lubricant and as a graft material in surgeries.
One reason Teflon is so useful is that it is pretty inert – which means that it doesn't react much at all with other substances. The carbon-fluorine chemical bonds are so strong that most corrosive chemicals can't break them. Even water rolls off without really getting Teflon wet!
- Try this experiment with Teflon tape.
- Read how non-stick Teflon sticks to pans at About.com.
- Some people worry about the safety of non-stick coatings on pans. They're safe, but only if used carefully. Check out the six pointers at the end of this article.
Also on this date:
Be sure to check out the story of Robert Garrett, pictured here. It's pretty strange and cool!
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