Thursday, October 30, 2014

"No one uses IR anymore" !?!

Fellow blogger Derek Lowe normally writes a pretty good post, but on more than one occasion - especially when it is something related to polymers - he falls short. Today he wrote:"...even good old IR, which no one uses much any more..." It's not the first time he has bashed IR. Consider "Fellow chemists, raise your hands: Who's taken an IR spectrum in the last six months?" or "I know, for example, that hardly anyone takes IR spectra any more." or "It still does some things very well...but as far as I can tell, no one cares"

While I understand that this may be true for small molecule organic chemistry (Derek's playbox), for polymers, IR is the first go-to technique for solving the "what this polymer?" question. Slap the sample in there and take the spectrum. In less than 10 minutes, you have your answer. No solvents needed (or desired). At my last employment situation, we had multiple IR instruments (with multiple libraries) and they were in constant use. Other analytical labs are similar. Just yesterday in fact, the Polymer Solutions Blog discussed the use of IR for their customers.

Sorry Derek, IR is used far more than you realize, especially for analyzing polymers.

Previous Years

October 30, 2013 - Making Plastic a Verb

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Comparing Burger Chains and Oil Companies

According to, the top burger chains in the US are
  1. McDonalds
  2. Burger King
  3. Wendy's
  4. Sonic
  5. Jack in the Box
  6. Dairy Queen
  7. Hardee's
  8. Carls Jr.
  9. Whataburger
  10. Steak and Shake
  11. Five Guys
  12. Culver's
  13. Checkers/Rally's
  14. White Castle
  15. In-and-Out
  16. Krystal

I haven't eaten at all these chains as some of them are limited to certain portions of the country. But Krystal? I've never even heard of them.

According to, the largest oil and gas companies in the world by reserves are
  1. Saudi Aramco
  2. National Iranian Oil Company
  3. Qatar General Petroleum Corporation
  4. Iraq National Oil Company
  5. Petroleos de Venezuela
  6. Abu Dhabi National Oil Company
  7. Kuwait National Petroleum Company
  8. Nigerian National Petroleum Company
  9. National Oil Company of Libya
  10. Sonatrach (Algeria)
  11. Gazprom
  12. Rosneft
  13. Petrochina
  14. Petronas
  15. Lukoil
  16. Egyptian General Petroleum
  17. ExxonMobil
So the next time you are tempted to think of ExxonMobil as this HUGE company that has incredible influence and is leading us down an irreversible the path of petroleum dependency, climate change and pollution, and away from renewable energy and a green, sustainable future, think again. They are the equivalent to a burger chain that is smaller than Krystal. If the Krystal chain disappeared tomorrow, I wouldn't notice at all. If ExxonMobil disappeared tomorrow, would it really change anything? Nope.

Previous Years

October 29, 2013 - A New Chemistry Lab Building, But Without New Chemistry Jobs

October 29, 2012 - More Open Access articles in Polymers and Rheology

October 29, 2010 - Garbage Patch Vacuum Cleaners

October 29, 2010 - Good Advice

October 29, 2010 - UV Scale-up

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Who put the "plastic" in plastic surgery?

"Plastic Surgery" is the hot topic of the day (especially as it relates to Renee Zellweger) and so the question arises as to what plastic is used in plastic surgery.

The word "plastic" is an old word that is used in many diverse settings. In materials science, there is plastic deformation. You also have the macromolecules that are the subject of most of the posts on this blog and you have the surgery. It may be surprising, but these uses are all based on the same meaning that the word "plastic" originally meant. "Plastic" comes from the Greek plastikos, meaning moldable.

The use of the word in the area of material science is the oldest application of the word and it refers to an irreversible deformation of a material. All materials can be stretched or bent to some degree so that when the applied force is removed, the material bounces back to its original shape. This is referred to as elastic deformation. But when too much force is applied, the material is permanently deformed - it has undergone plastic deformation. Whether it is a blacksmith pounding out iron, the steel for a car door being stamped or the drunk guy squishing his aluminum beer cans, its all plastic deformation. The material is being molded into a new shape.

With the development of polymers in the 20th century, macromolecules quickly became associated with the term plastic because they are quite moldable. Compared to metals which usually required large amounts of heat and force to mold them, polymers required comparatively little heat and force. The association is so strong that the word "plastic" to most people refers to polymers and little else.

Hence the misunderstanding of the term plastic surgery. The term was originally based on the idea of molding parts of the body through any of a number of techniques, most of which do not involve polymers. But because the word plastic has become equivalent to polymeric materials, you can have Joan Rivers joking about having her dead body donated to Tupperware. In fact, the etymology site noted above states that the term plastic surgery was first used in 1839, well before polymeric materials were described as plastic.

So who put the plastic in plastic surgery? We all did. But keep in mind what the word plastic really refers to: moldability.

Previous Years

October 23, 2013 - Dog and Pony Show

October 23, 2009 - Polymeric Auto Glass

October 23, 2006 - Polymers in the Proceedings

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dow Chemical's Earnings Keep Improving

Dow Chemical has announced their 3rd quarter earnings and as passed along by the Urethane Blog, they are up nicely.
"EBITDA(3) grew to $2.3 billion, up 24 percent versus the prior year, driven by ongoing productivity actions and improved market fundamentals. Performance Plastics achieved record quarterly adjusted EBITDA results (up 31 percent versus the year-ago period). Performance Materials EBITDA grew 61 percent with increases in most businesses, notably in Polyurethanes and PO/PG. Electronic and Functional Materials also delivered record quarterly EBITDA (up 11 percent)"
Normally I don't comment much on earnings reports, but this year has been different ever since the activist investor Daniel Loeb took up a stake in the company back in January. Unfortunately for Loeb, the company has been doing very well since then, providing plenty of egg for him to wipe off his face, such as that great earnings report that came out just 6 days after his initial critical comments. But might be expected for someone who has forgotten their calculus lessons.

Somehow I don't think Loeb will be commenting anytime soon (other than to announce that he threw his arm out trying to pat himself on the back for the great job he did in improving Dow's performance since January).

Previous Years

October 22, 2013 - October 22, 2013 -

October 22, 2012 - White Isn't Always White

October 22, 2010 - Thoughts on Losing Electricity

October 22, 2010 - Plastics - They Have a Future, but no Futures

October 22, 2010 - It's Not Easy Being Green

Monday, October 20, 2014

Martin Sheen and His Hypocritical Hate of Plastics

Last Friday I wrote of Lindsay Lohan's love of plastics. Her feelings are not shared by all of Hollywood however. Martin Sheen is a good example. On Saturday, he had a new boat christened after him. The boat is a research vessel for studying ocean plastics. While I've written many times that plastics have no business being in the ocean (or polluting any other part of the natural environment for that matter), the importance of ocean to plastics to mankind's survival to debate. Sheen says
"The biggest risk and danger to the world today are plastics in our oceans."
The biggest danger? Bigger than nuclear proliferation? Climate change? Chemical weapons in the hands of terrorist? Starvation? Disease? Poverty? These are all less of a danger than plastics?

Psst. Martin, take a look at the pictures of the new boat you're standing on.
Martin Sheen - I hate plastics. But the ones on my boat don't count, right?
You know what I see? Plastics. Lots and lots of plastics everywhere on that new boat. The blue and white paint on the side - plastics. The unpainted wood - coated with plastic. The ropes going every which way - plastics. The sails - plastics. The microphone that you are speaking into? Wires that are coated with plastic insulation (as are many of the wires carrying the electricity from the powerplant to the microphone.) The ink that was used to print your speech? Plastics are in that. The paper that your speech was written on? Plastics are in that too.

Looks to me Martin like your boat is only adding to the problem, not solving it. You better drydock it ASAP and help save the world.

Previous Years

October 20, 2011 - Who Invented Kraton?

October 20, 2011 - The Inventors of Kraton...

October 20, 2009 - Patent Quality and Value

Friday, October 17, 2014

Linday Lohan and plastic bags

I last wrote about Lindsay Lohan in April of 2013. Since that time, she has kept a pretty low profile as far as the plastics industry is concerned. But that all changed this morning when the Daily Mail published photos of her and a plastic bag:
Lindsay Lohan being a plastic bag
That's her behind the bag, leaving for home(?) after performing onstage in London last night. (The article has more photographs that show that it is indeed Lindsay.)

She can get away with this in London, but pulling the plastic bag stunt in California is going to become pretty difficult. The state just past a law banning plastic bags. So what are all the actors and actresses going to do? Hide behind a paper bag? That would make them to butt of way too many coyote jokes. Maybe Hollywood will need to change their stance and call for a repeal of the ban. Their privacy needs to be respected.

Previous Years

October 17, 2013 - Is This Really Self-Healing?

October 17, 2012 - Overlooking the Obvious: Self-Healing PVOH Hydrogels

October 17, 2011 - How to (NOT!) Determine PVC Rheology

October 17, 2006 - Off and Running