Roy J Plunkett – The Father of the Non-Stick Coating

A lot of the things that make our modern lives easier are things that we give little thought to. But of course, someone at some point in history has come up with all the useful things that we have, both large and small and has used inventions to improve the way that we live our lives.

One of the scientists whose name most people will not recognise – Roy J Plunkett but came up with something that makes all of our lives easier – Teflon is the brand name, and it is a type of coating that most of us will recognise as the thing that has made cooking so much easier for us, as it stops food from sticking to our pots and pans!

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It is also used in car manufacturing, construction and even on your hair straighteners! PTFE coating like this is one of the modern types of non-stick coating, and it has revolutionised many of the things that we use on a daily basis. So just who was Roy J Plunkett and how did he discover this versatile and useful product?

Roy was born in 1910 and worked during the great depression in America on a farm. He had an interest in chemistry and went to study it at College in Indiana, where he shared a room with scientist Paul Flory, who went on to become a Nobel prize winner! After he finished at Indiana the pair both also went on to study for a doctorate in his home state of Ohio.

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After he finished his education, he went on to work at DuPont, and his job when he first started working there was to research the chemicals used in modern refrigerators – chlorofluorocarbons. Earlier refrigerators had used chemicals such as ammonia, which had been poisonous to the people who made the refrigerators, so these new chemicals were something that everyone was keen to work on to improve the safety of the manufacturing process.

During one experiment, Roy J Plunkett had produced a special gas called tetrafluoroethylene gas (a bit of a mouthful, more commonly known as TFE!) and when he went to check back on it in the cylinder where it was stored and had been chlorinated, nothing came out. Upon closer inspection, it turned out that the gas had become a white powder – something that Roy took an interest in and immediately began to study.

He discovered that it was something that most things would not stick to as it had very low friction on the surface as well as being very resistant to heat – of course this suddenly changed everything, and the first non-stick coating had been created! Named Teflon, this was the first of its kind and it also revolutionised chemistry as most scientists did not realise that this was something that could happen until it did!

So next time you cook your bacon and remove it from the pan with ease or straighten your hair or dive your car – you know who to be grateful to!