Monday, May 4, 2015

Science and Serendipity

Hula Hoop Image by Eren Emre Kanal
Hula Hoop Image by Eren Emre Kanal
While returning home from the Oklahoma Festival of the Arts, we decided to visit the Phillips Petroleum Museum in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. In the museum, we learned a wonderful story about the discover of crystalline polypropylene and high-density polyethylene that beautifully illustrates the role that serendipity sometimes plays in scientific discovery.

In June of 1951, Phillip's researchers Paul Hogan and Robert Banks were looking for a better method to convert natural gas into gasoline. While experimenting with catalysts, they noticed a solid white powder that was clogging up their instruments. After looking closely at the newly discovered substance, they immediately switched the focus of their research and developed the plastics that would help transform the latter half of the 20th century.

Phillips introduced high-density polyethylene in 1954 under the brand name Marlex. While the new plastic would eventually be used in everything from baby bottles to automotive bumpers, it was the Hula Hoop which brought widespread popularity to the new material.

What will you discover today?

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