Foundation Of Polymer Science Named An International Chemical Landmark

April 16, 1999

Washington, DC -- The American Chemical Society and the Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker, the German Chemical Society, will designate the foundation of polymer science by Nobel Prize winner Hermann Staudinger (1881-1965) as an International Historic Chemical Landmark. A plaque marking the designation will be presented to the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry in Frieburg-im- Breisgau, Germany, on April 19, 1999, for installation at the Hermann Staudinger House, which houses the Institute.

Staudinger's pioneering research, first at the Eigenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) in Zurich, then at the Albert Ludwigs University in Freiburg, led to the development of polymer science as a modern multidisciplinary field of great industrial significance. Modern products of polymer chemistry or plastics range from food packaging, textile fibers, appliances, auto parts and toys to membranes for water desalination, carriers used in controlled drug release and biopolymers for tissue engineering.

According to American Chemical Society President Edel Wasserman, "in this international chemical landmark designation celebrating the foundation of modern polymer science, we are marking one of the great scientific advances of the 20th century. It has led to wide-ranging technological advances affecting all of us."

Staudinger's initial findings created a stir in the international chemical community when he postulated, in 1920, that materials such as natural rubber have very high molecular weight weights his contemporaries considered gigantic and unlikely. In a paper entitled, "sber Polymerisation," Staudinger presented several reactions that form high molecular weight molecules by linking together a large number of small molecules in a reaction he called "polymerization." During polymerization, individual repeating units join together like a long string of pearls. In 1922, Staudinger named his new concept "macromolecules," covering both synthetic and natural polymers, the key to a wide range of modern polymeric materials and innovative applications.

"Despite criticism from his colleagues, Staudinger challenged opposing views and defended his polymer research with sound experimental evidence, ingenuity, persistence and enthusiasm," said Erhard Meyer-Galow, president of the Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker.

During the 1930s, Staudinger's macromolecular concept found increasing acceptance by other chemists and was being applied in industrial processes in the United States. After two decades of research, he received the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1953 for his concept of macromolecules and his prolonged effort to establish the science of large molecules.

Staudinger's academic career advanced as did his research into polymers and subsequent notoriety. In 1926, he became director of the chemistry department at Albert Ludwigs University in Freiburg. In 1940, he established the Institute for Macromolecular Chemistry within that department the first in Europe devoted exclusively to polymer science. In 1944, near the end of the Second World War, Staudinger's laboratory was destroyed by Allied bombing. In the years after the war, he concentrated on the rebuilding of the chemistry department and his institute. Staudinger retired from the chemistry department in 1951 and was succeeded by Arthur Lüttringhaus. The Institute for Macromolecular Chemistry was transferred from the university to the state of Baden-Württemberg, on a temporary basis, with Staudinger remaining as director. He resigned in 1956. Elfriede Husemann succeeded Staudinger as director, and the Institute for Macromolecular Chemistry became an independent university institute. In 1962, she was appointed to the newly established chair of macromolecular chemistry and the institute was moved into a new building, now called "Hermann Staudinger Haus," located in Stefan-Meier-Strasse.

The plaque, to be installed at the Hermann Staudinger House, reads:
This building is named after Hermann Staudinger, who, between 1926 and 1956, carried out his pathbreaking research on macromolecular chemistry in Freiburg. His theories on the polymer structures of fibers and plastics and his later research on biological macromolecules formed the basis for countless modern developments in the fields of materials science and biosciences and supported the rapid growth of the plastics industry. For his work in the field of polymers, Staudinger was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1953.
A nonprofit organization with a membership of nearly 159,000 chemists and chemical engineers, the American Chemical Society publishes scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences, and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

American Chemical Society

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