Wallace H. Carothers and Fundamental Research at Du Pont

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Science  02 Aug 1985:
Vol. 229, Issue 4712, pp. 436-442
DOI: 10.1126/science.229.4712.436


In the Depression decade, the research group headed by Wallace H. Carothers made two discoveries—neoprene and nylon—that have had an enormous impact on E. I. du Pont de Nemours and industrial research generally. At the same time, Carothers's many publications helped establish the foundations of polymer science. A theoretical organic chemist, he left Harvard University to take part in Du Pont's new fundamental research program. Although founded on the academic model, it soon began to reflect its industrial setting. Some surprising experimental results, the research philosophy of a new research director, and the economic realities of the Great Depression pushed Du Pont's pure scientists toward more practical or mission-oriented goals. Nylon and neoprene emerged from this creative tension between chemists interested in science and management committed to innovation.