- Happy Accidents
- Happy Accidents #045 - Teflon
Happy Accidents #045 - Teflon
The Slippery Surprise
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Teflon is a household name known for its non-stick prowess. You might think it’s creation was the result of meticulous planning and research. You’d be wrong…
This extraordinary material's journey began with an accidental discovery, showcasing the power of serendipity in scientific innovation.
Let's dig in, shall we?
SETTING THE STAGE
This is the part of every Happy Accident story where we see every successful outcome starts with the person putting themselves in a favorable position. They work hard, they try new things, they meet new people. They're not just sitting around 'hoping' to be successful some day.
Our tale takes us to the late 1930s, a time when hazardous refrigerants like ammonia and sulfur dioxide posed risks in cooling systems.
Roy Plunkett had joined DuPont in 1936 and was involved in researching and developing new refrigerants, specifically focusing on creating non-toxic alternatives to the hazardous refrigerants like ammonia and sulfur dioxide used at the time.
What Plunkett didn’t know was that he was about to make an incredible, accidental discovery…
THE HAPPY ACCIDENT
This is the part of every success story where there's a chance encounter, a serendipitous moment, an unintentional discovery (or Happy Accident) that paves the way for the next steps. In some cases, a Happy Accident can even be disguised as something bad in the moment.
On April 6, 1938, Plunkett and his assistant, Jack Rebok, were experimenting with tetrafluoroethylene (TFE), a refrigerant gas. They’d stored a sample of TFE in small cylinders to be used in their experiments.
When they opened one of the cylinders, they were hit with quite the surprise. The TFE had spontaneously polymerized into a white, waxy solid. How strange.
This odd substance was not just chemically inert and had a very high melting point; it was also incredibly slippery.
This accidental creation was soon recognized as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), known today as Teflon.
Just like Happy Accidents don't just fall into your lap (you need to set the stage first), they also don't turn into anything if you don't recognize them and take action. This is the part of every success story where we see people capitalizing on their Happy Accident.
Plunkett and his team realized that they had stumbled upon a remarkable material with a wide range of potential applications. Teflon's non-stick properties and resistance to heat and chemicals made it ideal for various industrial and consumer uses.
DuPont saw the immense potential in this newfound material and acted swiftly in these 4 areas:
Patenting: To secure their rights, they patented Teflon, preventing others from producing and marketing it without permission.
Development: DuPont invested in further research and development to refine manufacturing processes and identify practical applications for Teflon.
Marketing: They introduced Teflon to the market as coatings and liners, starting with industrial applications, such as non-stick coatings for pipes and valves.
Consumer Products: Recognizing its potential, Teflon was incorporated into consumer products like non-stick cookware and bakeware.
Apparently, Teflon can even be used as a shiny wax coating to give your car a much newer look. Check out this before and after video to see what it looks like.
The quirky accidental discovery of Teflon demonstrates that unexpected events and serendipity can lead to groundbreaking inventions and commercially successful products.
It's a testament to the leaders and companies who embrace uncertainty in the ever changing world of innovation. And to those who keep their focus during slippery situations!
TOO LONG; DIDN’T READ (TL;DR)
Roy Plunkett, an American chemist at DuPont, accidentally invented Teflon while working on developing non-toxic refrigerants in 1938.
Plunkett and his assistant were experimenting with a refrigerant gas known as tetrafluoroethylene (TFE) when they opened a cylinder containing this gas and discovered that it had spontaneously polymerized into a white, waxy solid.
This chance discovery led to the creation of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), commonly known as Teflon, a material prized for its non-stick properties, chemical resistance, and high melting point, eventually finding applications in various industries.
AND ANOTHER THING…
Shout out to Nikita Kazhin (an avid Happy Accidents reader) who took to Twitter to share the origami butterflies he created using the inspiration from last week’s story about Post-It notes. In case you missed it, there was a YouTube video in that newsletter showing you how to make these butterflies step by step. Check it out!
Well done, Nikita!
Some fun facts:
Teflon's slippery properties aren't just for cookware; they also have aerospace applications. Teflon is used to coat aircraft components to reduce ice buildup.
The first Teflon pan, called "The Happy Pan," was released in 1961.
The non-stick properties of Teflon have also led to applications in medical devices, such as catheters and guidewires.
The name "Teflon" was coined in 1945 when it became a registered trademark.
The lessons here:
Embrace accidents: Teflon's story teaches us to be open to the unexpected. Sometimes, what seems like a mistake can turn into a valuable discovery.
Patience pays off: Despite an accidental start, the dedicated development of Teflon's applications was key to its success.
Innovation in unexpected places: The search for safer refrigerants led to a breakthrough in the culinary world – a reminder that innovation can happen where you least expect it.
YOUR Happy Accidents
Do you have a Happy Accident story of your own? I’d love to hear about it! Reply to this email with your story and it just might end up here in the newsletter!
Hey, Dennis Geelen here. Author of the Happy Accidents newsletter.
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