The Invention of Nylon

September 4 is the birthday of Julian Hill, who was born in 1904.  Hill was a member of the Du Pont research team led by Wallace Carothers tasked with investigating polymers.  Polymers are large molecules created by chaining smaller molecules together.

At the time, researchers could not synthesize a polymer with a molecular weight of more than 4,200.  In 1930, Hill shattered that record by creating a 12,000-weight polyester substance.  The new substance could be stretched and pulled into long strands that were remarkably strong.  Unfortunately, Hill’s material had a very low melting point.  Carothers’ team was able to make a more stable version four years later.

(Sadly, Carothers never saw the success of his achievement.  Believing himself to be a failure, he committed suicide in 1937.)

Nylon” was introduced at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.  Originally used for toothbrush bristles, it became so critical for parachutes that it was restricted to only military use during World War II.  Nylon also became an industry-changing substitute for silk stockings.  When nylon stockings were first offered for sale in New York City in 1940, more than four million pairs were sold within a few hours.  Women gladly paid a premium for the superior material.

Du Pont executives originally considered the material useless.  By the time they got around to registering the name, “nylon” was so widely used that it could no longer be trademarked.  (Shortly before his death in 1991, Hill declared that “the human race is going to perish by being smothered in plastic.”)  Today, nylon is in everything from clothing to cars, making up two-thirds of the world’s luggage.

Research into new materials is an increasingly critical field for science and industry.  Agilent offers several analytical solutions for materials testing, manufacturing and R&D, including its award-winning Cary 7000 Universal Measurement Spectrophotometer.

Working with new materials also requires highly sensitive measurement capabilities.  Keysight Technologies (Agilent’s electronic measurement business) recently introduced a new series of femto/picoammeters and electrometers for materials science.  The B2980A Series can measure currents as low as 0.01 fA (or 0.01 x 10-15 of an ampere), as well as resistance as high as 10 petaohms (PΩ or 10 x 1015 ohms).

“Evaluating new materials often requires highly sensitive electronic measurement,” says Keysight’s Masaki Yamamoto.  “With the new B2980A Series, engineers and researchers can trust their test results and improve their development speeds.”


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