Who is the Father of Polymer Science?

Pioneers in the Field of Polymer Science

Last week, while doing some literature search, I came across a few websites mentioning ‘Father of Polymer Science’. With the curiosity I have, I checked these websites only to know that there are two to three names mentioned on different websites, and so I thought of diving deep into this and get some insights to find ‘Who is the Father of Polymer Science?’

I also ran a poll for three days on Linkedin to get inputs from my fellow researchers, students and colleagues working in the field of polymers and science. Please find below the poll results:

Poll: Who is the father of Polymer Science?

57 votes were received and the results showed that 25% voted for Herman Francis Mark, 74% voted to Hermann Staudinger and 2% were in the favour of Henri Braconnot.

Before going into further details, let’s look into who these individuals were and what did they contribute in the field of polymers. I hope, you are also inquisitive to know the same?

Herman Francis Mark (1895—1992)

  • Mark had more than a dozen honorary doctoral decrees
  • Received all the highest awards worldwide, except the Nobel Prize
  • Max F. Perutz used Marks technique of x-ray crystallography to study alpha helix structure of haemoglobin. Watson and Crick (Nobel prize winners in Physiology or Medicine 1962 for their discovery of molecular structure of DNA) were students of Max Perutz
  • Linus Pauling (Nobel prize winner in Chemistry 1954, for his research into the nature of the chemical bond and its application to the elucidation of the structure of complex substances) learned about x-ray diffraction from Mark. Pauling has declared himself repeatedly “‘deeply indebted’ to Mark”
  • Mark and his colleagues used the X-ray tubes available in their laboratory to confirm the Compton Effect which helped Einstein win the Nobel Prize in Physics 1921
  • Formulated the Mark–Houwink–Sakurada equation, which describes relationship between intrinsic viscosity of a polymer on its relative molecular weight
  • Mark was one of the chief architects of the polymer section in IUPAC
  • Was first to perform electron diffraction studies of gases
  • In 1922, he attended meeting of Gesellschaft Deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte (Society of German Natural Scientists and Physicians) alongside Hermann Staudinger. Here Staudinger was highly criticized by other German chemists of his concept of long chain molecules. Interestingly, lecture of Herman Mark was titled: Roentgenographic Determination of the Structure of Organic, especially Highmolecular Substances. This provided important support to the concept of Staudinger
  • Do you know, Staudinger once accused Mark of idea plagiarism, as the concept of long chain molecules was proposed by him, which paved a new pathway in organic chemistry
    • Staudinger insisted that polymer molecules are stiff rods
    • Mark thought polymer chains as flexible coils
  • Joined Institute for Fiber Research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in 1922. At that time only other researcher working at the institute was Albert Einstein. Worked on X-ray crystallography to study natural fibers, hexamethylene tetramine, graphite, oxalic acid, etc, refraction and polarization studies helping to understand Stark and Compton effects
  • He was director of research laboratory of highmolecular compounds in I. G. Farbenindustrie, Ludwigshafen. Was actively involved in commercialization of polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, polyvinyl alcohol, and the first synthetic rubbers. In 1932 Mark was removed from the position as Hitler formed government in Germany and he was Jewish
  • He was director of the first Chemical Institute of the University of Vienna. Designed curriculum in Polymer Science, again first of its kind in the world.
  • He joined Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn and combined it with Du Pont’s consultantship. He had numerous interactions with Wallace Carothers, inventor of nylon. Started Americas first polymer programme.
  • Started the journal: Journal of Polymer Science and Journal of Applied Polymer Science

Some of the literatures wherein Herman Mark has been mentioned as ‘Father of Polymer Science’ are:

A very interesting interview of Herman Mark can be read here.

Hermann Staudinger (1881 – 1965)

  • Won Nobel Prize in chemistry ‘for his discoveries in the field of macromolecular chemistry’ in 1953. The publication (Über Polymerisation) proposed that natural and synthetic polymers are not colloidal systems or aggregates of smaller organic molecules but are rather covalently linked macromolecules. However, he did not provide any scientific proofs to prove this concept.
  • 1920s: When Staudinger decided to leave classical organic chemistry work in the field of polymer science, was opposed by his colleagues, who termed the work as “grease chemistry”.
  • 1926: When Staudinger presented his concept at the Society of German Natural Science Researchers and Doctors, Düsseldorf he found himself almost completely isolated and strongly opposed. However, two people supported him:
    • Richard Willstätter, 1915 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, stating that Staudinger had provided experimental proof of the existence of long chain molecules.
    • Hermann Mark, watchfully supported with one of his statement being “Willstätter, the Chairman, indicated in reticent form during his final remarks that he supported the macromolecular concept.”
  • His concept of published in Über Polymerisation was strongly opposed by scientific community, especially, 1927 Nobel Prize in Chemistry winning chemist – Heinrich Otto Wieland. He even wrote a letter to Staudinger: ‘‘Dear colleague, abandon your ideas of large molecules; organic molecules with molecular weight exceeding 5,000 do not exist. Purify your products such as rubber, they will crystallize and turn out to be low molecular weight compounds.’’
  • Never discovered new macromolecules, polymers, or polymerization methods; but, demonstrated covalent linking of macromolecules in natural and synthetic polymers
  • Was awarded honorary doctorate from six universities (Mainz, Turin, Salamanca, Karlsruhe, Zurich and Strasbourg). He was an honorary member of numerous scientific associations.
  • Published more than 800 papers. Also, published:
    • Autobiography: Arbeitserinnerungen (From Organic Chemistry to Macromolecules) was published in 1970.
    • Research work collection: Das Wissenschaftliche Werk von Hermann Staudinger (The Scientific Contributions of Hermann Staudinger) published between 1969 and 1976
  • He was also well-known for Staudinger reaction:
    • Reduction of azides with triphenylphosphine
    • Further extended by Carolyn Bertozzi and Laura Kiessling and is called as Staudinger ligation
    • This reaction is widely accepted as ‘‘a gift to chemical biology.’’
  • His two students won Nobel Prize. Below are their details. Interestingly, Hermann Staudinger won Noble Prize in Chemistry in 1953, post winning of Nobel Prize by his students.
    • Leopold Ružička: Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on polymethylenes and higher terpenes in 1950
    • Tadeusz Reichstein: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of hormones of the adrenal cortex, their structure and biological effects in
  • 1999: American Chemical Society and Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker designated Staudinger’s work as “International Historic Chemical Landmark”
  • Started first polymer journal:  First Polymer Journal (“Die Makromolekulare Chemie”): Moving to New Horizons in 1947
  • 1940 to 1956: Served as Director of the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry at the University of Freiburg, replacing Heinrich Otto Wieland. First European Institute to provide education in the field of polymers
  • He became full professor at the Technical University of Karlsruhe, when he was just 26 years old; wherein he worked on ketenes, oxalyl chloride, diazo compounds, and also on the synthesis of butadiene and isoprene.  During the synthesis of ketenes, the autoxidation reactions, produced some resin-like substances. This was his first encounter with polymeric materials.
  • Worked with Leopold Ruzicka (Nobel Prize winner in chemistry: 1939) to identify structure of natural pyrethrins and determined synthetic routes, which are important natural insecticides.
  • Wallace H. Carothers, inventor of polyamides, polychloroprenes and polyesters, attributed his work to the confidence he had on the concept of Staudinger (synthetic polymers are formed conventional organic reactions)
  • 1917: Staudinger demanded the leadership of the German Army to stop the fighting, mentioning in the letter: “the opponents of Germany are much superior now”, when America entered the war
  • Publicly criticized chemical warfare strategy (use of poison gas) of Fritz Haber
  • 1934: Dean of Freiburg University (Martin Heidegger) initiated dismissal procedures against Staudinger; which was postponed and then withdrawn, with the condition that he should stop publicly questioning the Nazi authority. However, he was banned from travelling effective 1937

Some of the literatures wherein Hermann Staudinger has been mentioned as ‘Father of Polymer Science’ are:

Henri Braconnot (1780 – 1855)

  • He was a French chemist and pharmacist, who is considered as the first person to develop derivatives of cellulose (a natural polymer) producing celluloid and cellulose acetate in the 1830s.
  • It is to be noted that the term ‘polymer’ was coined by Jons Jakob Berzelius in the year 1833.

Can the person who first developed a type of polymer can be called as the ‘Father of Polymer Science’?

Some of the literatures wherein Henri Braconnot has been mentioned as ‘Father of Polymer Science’ are:

  • No direct literature found

Do you know, even Wallace Carothers, has been mentioned in certain literatures to be the co-father of Polymer Science in addition to Hermann Staudinger. Please check below literatures:

Please let me know who do you think is truly the father of Polymer Science.


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