Better Things for Better Living Through Chemistry: Seven Better Products We Didn’t Need But Now Can’t Live Without

by Carol Westbrook

“Our house will never have that old people smell!” my husband said when he discovered Febreze. Yes, it's true! Using highly sophisticated chemistry (described below), Febreze truly eliminates odors, not just mask them with scent like air fresher. This was when I realized that the 1960's promise made by DuPont was being fulfilled, “Better Things for Better Living Through Chemistry!” I've put together seven of my favorite products that chemistry has improved, excluding the obvious true advances in medicine, electronics, energy and so on. Instead, I've highlighted products we probably did not even need, but now can't live without. Who made them, and how do they work? Fig 1 Better things

1. Super Glue ©

Super Glue delivers what its name promises: it can stick almost anything together with a bond so strong that a 1-inch square can hold more than a ton. Besides household projects and repair, it's an effective skin adhesive for cuts, and those nasty dry-skin cracks you get on your hands in the winter. The myth is that Super Glue, or cyanoacrylate (C5H5NO2) was created as surgical adhesive for WWII field hospitals. In reality, it was invented by Goodrich in 1942 as a potential plastic for gunsights; it was rejected because its annoying property of sticking to everything made it impossible to fabricate. Fast forward to 1951, when it was rediscovered by scientists Harry Coover and Fred Joyner at Eastman Kodak, who recognized its potential as a glue. Initially it was used industrially, but in the 1970s it was introduced as a consumer project that rapidly took off.

Cyanoacrylate is a small molecule that binds to itself creating long chains, or polymers, when exposed to water–including water vapor in the air. The polymers are extremely strong acrylic plastics that rapidly bind whatever they contact when polymerizing. Unlike many adhesives, Super Glue cures almost instantly and can stick your fingers together before you can wipe it off. For obvious reasons it is packaged in small, one-use containers.

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