In 1907, Belgian immigrant Leo Baekeland stumbled on a new material that would shape the 20th century. The chemist wanted a way to strengthen wood and began tinkering. He discovered he could combine phenol, which came from burning coal, with formaldehyde. Then, when he combined this concoction with a filler like wood or asbestos, he could heat it and shape it into a mold. The result was the first synthetic thermo setting plastic, known as Bakelite. It was used to make telephone, radios and kitchen equipment. Baekeland called his invention “plastic”.
A century later, most plastics are produced when natural gas and oil are refined and combined with other compounds. Today, plastic is a component in nearly everything we see and touch, and iis so common, we hardly notice it. I t is quietly enabling innovators, young and old, to solve everyday challenges, and leading to some of the most exciting innovations in sports, arts and technology.
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