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Staudinger, Hermann

chemistry molecular mass polymers

[ shtow dinger] (1881–1965) German organic chemist: the founder of polymer chemistry.

Staudinger’s career in chemistry began with work of a classical organic kind and included the discovery of a new group, the ketenes, and work on the aroma agents in coffee. But in the 1920s he began to study rubber. At that time, rubber and other apparently non-crystalline high-molecular mass materials were supposed to be merely disorderly aggregates of small molecules; linked with this concept, their chemistry was held in low regard. From 1920, working in Zürich and Freiburg, Staudinger took the view that these polymers are giant molecules held together by ordinary chemical bonds and frequently forming long-chain molecular strands. His view was at first strongly opposed, but he devised methods for measuring their relative molecular mass by viscometry, and chemical methods for modifying polymers, and soon X-ray studies also supported his views. When accepted, these ideas formed a philosophy for the new macromolecular chemistry – the chemistry of ‘high polymers’ (ie having high molecular mass). This has proved fundamental for an industry using synthetic polymers as rubbers, mouldable plastics, fibres, adhesives and so on. He also foresaw the importance of natural biopolymers in biochemistry, and from 1936 had some prophetic insights in that area, (eg ‘every gene macromolecule possesses a definite structure which determines its function in life’ – correct, but not provable for another two decades). Belatedly, he received a Nobel Prize in 1953. He had then worked in Freiburg since 1926.

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