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Vol. 26 No. 4
July-August 2004

From the Editor

image of Fabienne Meyers

Polymers—it is difficult to know where to start a discussion about this "golden child" of chemistry. It is certainly hard to appreciate just how much they have molded our lives. Polymers, or plastics, are everywhere and today their uses seem endless—furniture, building materials, paint, fabrics, household items, packaging, medical supplies, tools, disposable devices, car materials, airplanes, you name it. One could say that plastics have invaded our everyday life, providing an ever-growing variety of commodities. And yet, this has all occurred relatively quickly and it is strange to think that at the time of the Union's creation in 1919 the simple notion of very large molecules such as polymers was not broadly accepted.

Looking through the Union's history, one can find as early as 1944 a reference to the creation of a commission on macromolecular chemistry, and by 1955 a commission on macromolecules (within the physical chemistry section) and on plastics and high polymers (within the applied chemistry section). During that same time period, in 1953, Hermann Staudinger was awarded the Nobel Prize "for his discoveries in the field of macromolecular chemistry." In the opening of his Nobel Lecture on 11 December 1953, he wrote the following:

Macromolecular chemistry is the youngest branch of organic chemistry and as such has experienced the honour of the award of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. I sincerely hope that this great distinction will be the means whereby macromolecular chemistry will undergo further fruitful development. Some few months after I had the opportunity of speaking in this auditorium on the development of macromolecular chemistry into a new branch of organic chemistry at the International Congress for Pure and Applied Chemistry,* it is today my duty to describe to you the characteristic features of macromolecular chemistry and demonstrate the new features which it introduces into organic chemistry.
*This was the 13th IUPAC Congress held in Uppsala, Sweden

Staudinger proved correct, and "fruitful development" might seem an under statement. By the mid 1960s, the efforts of coordinating IUPAC interests in macromolecular science resulted in the establishment of the Macromolecular Division. For those of us who are not historians, this part of the history of IUPAC might seem only marginally interesting, but to a certain extent it reflects the ever-existing struggle of any scientific community to recognize and accept new concepts or different ideas.

In IUPAC, the interest in the structure and properties of commercial polymers is quite remarkable, and thanks to Royston Moore and Martin Laun, it is well documented—in print page 10.
While the slogan "Better Things for Better Living . . .Through Chemistry" (Dupont, 1939) might be out of fashion nowadays, it is a “classic” that applies to plastics everyday.

Fabienne Meyers
fabienne@iupac.org
www.iupac.org/publications/ci


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