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NYLON: FIBERS TO FABRICS

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by - 1/13/2016 2792 Views

The Silky Smooth Thermoplastic

If wood is considered as the world's most versatile natural material, then nylon is considered to be probably the most useful synthetic material. It's a plastic that can be molded into everyday products or drawn into fibers for making fabrics. The invention of nylon in the spring of 1930 and its launch in the late 1930s truly changed the world. You may ask me how? Let me explain. One can pretty much live your entire life with nylon by your side even without realizing about the same.

You can sleep away cozily on brushed nylon sheets until your alarm clock (powered by nylon gears) wakes you up. Hop across the nylon rugs, maybe eat your breakfast from a nylon bowl, before cleaning your teeth with a nylon toothbrush. Pop up a nylon umbrella over your head to protect you from the rain when you set out for work or, if the sun's shining and you're heading to the beach, wear your quick-drying nylon swimming shorts instead. Pumped up with adventure? You could try jumping from an airplane and have a nylon parachute bring you safely to the ground! Those are just a few of the things that nylon does for us every single day. What makes this stuff simply amazing? Let's take a closer look!

Manufacturing of Nylon

Unlike wood, iron, wool, and cotton, nylon does not exist in nature.  Nylon has to be made in chemical plants from organic (carbon-based) chemicals found in natural materials such as coal or petroleum. The nylon polymer is made by reacting together two fairly large molecules using moderate heat (roughly 285°C or 545°F) and pressure in a reaction vessel called an autoclave, which is a bit like an industrial-strength kettle. When they combine, they fuse together to make an even larger molecule and give off water in a chemical reaction known as condensation polymerization (condensation because water is eliminated; polymerization because a big, repeating molecule is produced). The large polymer formed in this case is the most common type of nylon—known as nylon-6,6 because the two molecules from which it's made each contain six carbon atoms; other nylons are made by reacting different starting chemicals. Usually this chemical process produces a giant sheet or ribbon of nylon that is shredded into chips, which become the raw material for all kinds of everyday plastic products.

Nylon clothes and similar products are made not from chips but from fibers of nylon, which are effectively strands of plastic yarn. They're made by melting nylon chips and drawing them through a spinneret, which is a wheel or plate with lots of tiny holes in it. Fibers of different length and thickness are made by using holes of different size and drawing them out at different speeds. Strands are sometimes used by themselves (for example, in the manufacture of stockings) and sometimes tens, hundreds, or even thousands are wrapped together to make thicker and stronger yarns (similar to cotton but far stronger).

Nylon: Its Properties

Generally, nylon is a silky smooth thermoplastic (which means it melts and turns runny when you heat it up, generally at around 260°C or 500°F) that's strong, tough, and durable (it's reasonably wear-proof and resists sunlight and weathering). Since it's a synthetic plastic polymer, it's highly resistant to attack from natural attacks such as molds, insects, and fungi. It's waterproof (hence its use in umbrellas and waterproof clothes) and fast-drying because (unlike with natural fabrics like cotton or wool) water molecules can't easily penetrate the outer surface. Although reasonably resistant to quite a lot of everyday substances except that, nylon will dissolve in phenol, acids, and some other harsh chemicals. Different kinds of nylon have different properties, which makes them useful for different things. Other kinds of nylon include nylon 6, nylon 6,12, and nylon 5,10. Two other "fantastic plastics" made by DuPont, Kevlar® (a superstrong material used in bulletproof vests) and Nomex® (a fireproof textile used in racing car suits and oven gloves), are also polyamides and they're chemically related to nylon.

The Invention

Everyone's heard of nylon, but hardly does anyone outside the world of chemistry have heard the name of Wallace Carothers (1896–1937), its brilliant, enigmatic, and ultimately tragic inventor. Carothers was a promising academic chemist working at Harvard University when DuPont™ lured him to its Wilmington, Delaware headquarters in the late 1920s. His job was leading a research team that was experimenting with polymerization and he scored an early success with the invention of neoprene, a synthetic rubber now best known for its use in wetsuits.

In spring 1930, Julian Hill, one among the Carothers team, accidentally produced a strange gooey blob of material that he could draw out into long, thin fibers. After further research and development, this material became nylon 6,6—the world's first commercially successful synthetic polymer—and DuPont patented it a few years later. This should have been a triumph for Carothers, but he'd been plagued by alcoholism and depression for some time and personal problems had ground him down. Tragically, he found life unbearable and committed suicide in a Philadelphia hotel in 1937.

The year after his death, DuPont launched nylon commercially, initially in plastic toothbrushes. Two years later, in 1940, the new material caused an incredible sensation when the first nylon stockings went on sale—something like 5 million pairs were sold on the first day alone!

In his nine years at DuPont, Wallace Carothers filed over 50 patents, but doubt about the value of his work was one of several factors that had apparently driven him to his death. If only he'd known how important his work was about to become. Today, he is rightly regarded as a pioneer of synthetic materials and considered one of the most important chemists of modern times.

Category : Nylon

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About Georgy Abraham

As the bright morning of 28th May dawned in the year 1972, in the fulfillment of time according to the plan & will of Almighty Godbrought me forth into this world and I was brought up & educated in Orissa. My parents provided me with the best of education in an English medium school with high standa .... more info

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