The invention of artificial plastic.

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Table of Contents


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  • The word plastic is derived from the Greek word “plastikos” meaning “capable of being shaped or moulded”.
  • The plastics we use in our everyday lives are synthetic/artificial plastics. Examples of naturally-occurring plastics are chewing gum and natural rubber.
  • The word plasticity describes the ability of any material to undergo deformation without breaking. For example, the metal aluminium displays plasticity but it is not a type of plastic.
  • The plastic “Parkesine” is the first man-made plastic. It was patented by the English inventor Alexander Parkes in 1856 as a clothing waterproofer.
  • The first ingredient is a form of nitrocellulose called pyroxylin. Basic nitrocellulose is made by combining nitric acid with starch or wood fibres. It is highly flammable. Pyroxylin is less flammable. Next, the pyroxylin is moistened with naphtha. Naphtha is a flammable liquid that is derived from fossil fuels. Pyroxylin and nitrocellulose look very similar.

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  • The next ingredient to the mixture is nitrobenzene which is an oily compound. It is created by adding nitric acid to benzene. Benzene can be derived from the sap of certain trees. The final ingredient is vegetable oil.

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  • The ingredients are mixed and a viscous mass is formed (Parkesine). Once dried, it can be moulded into any shape. Although it is still flammable:

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Here is a painting of Alexander Parkes:


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