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Paul J. Flory was an activist, scientist, journalist, chemist, and educator all in one. He was born on June 19, 1910 in Sterling, Illinois, of Ezra Flory and Martha Brumbaugh. His father, Ezra Flory, was a Brethren clergyman-educator, while his mother, Martha, was a schoolteacher. Flory attended Elgin High School and then enrolled in Manchester College in Indiana where he graduated on 1931. There, his interest in science, especially chemistry, was encouraged by a professor there named Carl W. Holl. Holl began to then try and persuade him to apply for graduate school at Ohio State University in Columbus, which was home of one of the largest chemistry departments in the country. He enrolled and completed a master’s degree in organic chemistry because it turns out he was very insecure about what he really wanted to study, which was physical chemistry. For his doctorate however, he finally did switch to physical chemistry.
Flory’s career included many accomplishments and positions, both academic and technical. In July 1934, he started to work in the Central Research Department of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company under American chemist Wallace Carothers. Flory was given a task to study the physical chemistry of macromolecules, or polymers, which grew into his life studies, and the reason he won the Nobel Prize. Wallace Carother, had an ill-timed death in 1937 and a year later, Flory moved to the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. He later on went to work in an oil company and a tire and rubber company. In 1948, he then accepted a lectureship in chemistry at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. That year, this position then came around to be a full time professorship. After several years at Cornell, Flory became executive director of research at Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh, which then four years later, he left for a position at Stanford University in California.
Paul J. Flory is known for his work and study in the field of macromolecules and polymers, but he also did research in the field of photochemistry and spectroscopy. Photochemistry is the branch of chemistry concerned with the chemical effects of light, and spectroscopy is the branch of science concerned with the investigation and measurement of spectra produced when matter interacts with or emits electromagnetic radiation. Wallace Hume Carothers was the first to show him that polymeric substances (such as rubber, cellulose, proteins, plastics, and nylon) could be treated in terms of ordinary chemistry which was an approach that later inspired Flory. Flory designed the “principle of equal reactivity”, which states that chains do not lose their propensity to grow when they get longer, as had been assumed before. He calculated a chain length distribution curve, which was curved experimentally later on.
Also, during his years at DuPont, Flory developed his idea of “chain transfer,” which determined that a growing addition polymer can transfer its site of growth to a neighbouring molecule by taking over one of its atoms. This observation allowed chemists to control the average chain lengths of polymer products by adding growth-terminating substance, which is an ability that was exploited during World War II for the U.S. Synthetic Rubber Program, to which Flory then contributed at Standard Oil and Goodyear.
Flory worked during the times of World War II, which affected his work greatly. His research and discoveries had a great impact on today’s world. He worked with polymer products which are known as the building blocks of plastic and rubber which we use everyday. He won the Nobel Prize for his work in Polymer Chemistry in 1974. The Flory Convention is for defining the variables involved on modeling the position vectors of atoms in macromolecules it is often necessary to convert from Cartesian coordinates (x,y,z) to generalized coordinates. This was named after Paul J. Flory. Flory died on September 9, 1985 in Big Sur, California, but his memory and discoveries still lived on. In 2002, he was inducted into the prestigious ‘Hall of Fame’ of ‘Alpha Chi Sigma’ posthumously. In conclusion, Paul J. Flory discovered things that impact our everyday lives enormously, even if we don’t know it. His work with polymer products, which end up being the building blocks of rubber and plastic, impact things we use everyday, especially things like tires. Without his discoveries and research, our lives would be extremely different.
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