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Chains of Opportunity

The University of Akron and the Emergence of The Polymer Age 1909–2007

By Mark Bowles

Publication Year: 2008

While “plastics” was a one-word joke in the 1967 movie The Graduate, plastics and other polymers have never been a laughing matter at the University of Akron, with its world-renowned College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering. Chains of Opportunity: The University of Akron and the Emergence of the Polymer Age, 1909-2007 tells the story of the university's rise to prominence in the field, beginning with the world's first academic course in rubber chemistry almost a century ago. Chains of Opportunity explores the university's pioneering contributions to rubber chemistry, polymer science, and polymer engineering. It traces the school's interaction with Akron rubber giants such as Goodyear and Firestone, recounts its administration of the federal government's synthetic rubber program during World War II, and describes its role in the development and professionalization of the academic discipline in polymers. The University of Akron has been an essential force in establishing the polymer age that has become a pervasive part of our material lives, in everything from toys to biotechnology.

Published by: The University of Akron Press

Front Matter

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

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pp. v-

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

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pp. vii-xii

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PREFACE

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pp. xiii-xvi

As a child in the 1970s, I seemed to grow up at the University of Akron. My father was an administrator there for over thirty years and on Saturdays he would take me with him to his office and share stories of its past. While he worked, I would sometimes play on the winding...

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INTRODUCTION

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pp. 1-9

Archaeologists have defined past civilizations by the materials that predominated in their societies. The evolution of the use of these materials— stone, bronze, and iron—enabled significant and concurrent changes in the cultures that mastered them. The ability to develop...

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1 The Birth of Rubber Chemistry 1909–1941

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pp. 10-44

centuries ago, rubber—or “caoutchouc” as it was then known—was simply a curious, sappy, milky-white substance that flowed from over three hundred different...

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2 THE SYNTHETIC QUEST 1941–1956

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pp. 45-76

“attention, citizens of the united states!” wrote an MIT professor in 1942. “Our present rubber situation is serious, deadly serious. . . .”1 With nearly the entire world’s supply of natural rubber under the control of Japan, an...

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3 POLYMERS, POLITICS, AND A PH.D. 1956–1959

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pp. 77-113

in 1938, Herman F. Mark and his family were running for their lives. Mark had been a preeminent polymer chemist at IG Farben in Germany, the leading chemical company in Europe at that time, and Mark’s polymer knowledge was of tremendous value to...

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4 RUBBER’S PAST AND POLYMER’S FUTURE 1958–1978

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pp. 114-146

in 1962, Time magazine published an article in which the author recalled a scientific “age of innocence” when the pursuit of science was neatly divided into distinct specialties of chemistry, physics, and biology. Those days...

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5 THE SUMMIT OF POLYMER VALLEY 1978–1991

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pp. 147-188

If Charles Dickens could have traveled through time to Akron, Ohio, in the late 1970s, he might have been inspired to write a sequel to his Tale of Two Cities...

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6 APPLYING POLYMERS 1983–2001

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pp. 189-222

in 1942, an article entitled “plastics come of age,” appeared in Harper’s magazine.1 Its writers made a bold argument that in the near future synthetic plastic substances constructed in laboratories would have a revolutionary...

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7 THE POLYMER STATE 1999–2007

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pp. 223-266

In April 2001, Newsweek published an article celebrating the emergence of a “new brand of tech city.” Journalist Adam Rogers and a team of reporters identified a list of cities building new economies with unique...

APPENDIX A

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pp. 267-269

APPENDIX B

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pp. 270-271

APPENDIX C

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pp. 272-275

APPENDIX D

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pp. 276-282

APPENDIX E

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pp. 283-292

APPENDIX F

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pp. 293-

NOTES

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pp. 295-341

INDEX

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pp. 343-356

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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pp. 357-

Mark D. Bowles has authored or coauthored seven books on the history of space exploration, nuclear research, and medicine. His book, Science in Flux, won the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ 2005 History Manuscript Award, which is presented each...


E-ISBN-13: 9781935603788
E-ISBN-10: 1935603787
Print-ISBN-13: 9781931968539
Print-ISBN-10: 1931968535

Page Count: 357
Illustrations: 1 line drawing, 100 photos
Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • University of Akron. College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering -- History.
  • Polymers -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- Ohio -- Akron -- History.
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