Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Museum of Design in Plastics

Doug Loeb of the Plastics News blog recently highlighted the Mueseum of Design in Plastics. The museum is located in Bournemouth, England and has images of much of their collection online. I am amazed by what good condition so many of the pieces are in. As we all know, plastics allow for some innovative design possibilities, but even a great design doesn't mean commercial success so there are lots of objects made during the last 80+ years, and unfortunately, the stories behind too many of these pieces have become lost.

Zhero Gravity shoes
So the museum is asking for help in identifying many of these objects. They even have a Top 10 "cold cases" page, featuring amongst other objects, the soccer/football shoes shown on the right. As Doug warned on his post, don't go to this site unless you have a lot of time to kill. It is very addicting.

Previous Years
April 24, 2013 - Hurricanes, Earthquakes and the Rheology of Water

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

From Pine Stumps to Polymers

A couple of days ago, one of the Xerox company blogs [*] had a post about making plastics from tree stumps. While tree stumps have yet to be fully exploited as a chemical feedstock, they have been partially used for decades to support the polymer industry. In particular, the rosin from pine stumps has been extensively used.

20+ years ago it seemed like every paper company had a chemicals division that was doing just, refining and modifying rosin from pine stumps to make tackifiers for pressure-sensitive adhesives, fluxes for solder, inks and toners, and much more. Consolidation of the broader chemical industry has been mirrored in the rosin industry. Many of the manufacturer's names from long ago are gone but the tradenames (Foral, Zonarez) are still around.

Abietic Acid
The largest component of rosin is abietic and similar acids. This can then be hydrogenated to increase the stability against oxidation, or esterified with a wide range of mono, di-, tri and tetra-ols. The new products then melt at a variety of temperatures. Despite these modifications however, the end product still has that sticky pine sap feeling. Once you get it on your fingers, you're not getting it off anytime soon.

While there is an ever increasing interest in biosourcing as many chemicals as possible, the rosin industry has been doing so for decades. Using these chemicals in polymers is hardly a recent conversion to green technology that might be implied.

[*] Yes, Xerox is still around.

Previous Years
April 23, 2012 - Can You Lift A Polymer From One End?

April 23, 2010 - Fito-Lays' PLA Bag

April 23, 2010 - Can't Tell the Players Without a Scorecard

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Week That Was(n't)

As some of you noticed, this blog was absent last week, as in completely inaccessible as the domain had expired. But it's back. Here's a brief explanation of what happened to those who were curious.

I publish this blog via Blogger/Blogspot which was acquired by Google some year back. Rather than having the blog URL be, for the low, low price of $10 a year I registered through Google for the domain name I put the billing on a credit card with autorenewal. That credit card however, is the same one that I use to shop at Target with. Target is a nationwide chains of everything-under-one roof store that has local headquarters - an upscale Walmart if you will. My family has been shopping at Target since they first opened in 1962 and we often joke about the $100 toothbrush we get there - you go into the store for a toothbrush and before you know it, you also have toilet paper, laundry detergent, lightbulbs and yogurt, etc. - plus a $100 tab at the checkout.

So when Target announced in January that there computers had been hacked and that 80 million US users credit card information was at risk, I got a new card. But I never updated the Google account until I started getting emails. The emails noted that I needed to login using my admin account. Admin account? What was that? I've been logging in forever and a day with another account and had no idea what my admin account was. Trying to get help from Google for fixing a free account was quite a problem too, but I eventually succeeded as you see.

Compounding all this was a double dose of bad timing. The day my blog went AWOL was the morning that my company started their annual internal showcase event, a massive poster session lasting 2 days with 4000 attendees from around the world. I was fortunate enough to have a poster to present and a killer demonstration (as Michael Martin Murphy sang in "Cherokee Fiddle", If you want to make a living you got to put on a good show). If any one was foolish enough to make eye contact with me, I waved into my division's booth, wowed them with the demo and then passed them on to my colleagues. It was a great show, but exhausting especially for an introvert. I got pumped up with Joe Satriani in the car on the way in and didn't dare turn on the radio on the way home. Nothing but silence.

And then it was the Easter weekend for good measure.

I got a call from a Google rep this morning and everything is now fixed and should be going forward. I'll get back to the polymer stuff tomorrow.

Previous Years
April 21, 2011 - Small is not Necessarily Better (with Plastics)

April 21, 2010 - Visible Light Photocatalysis - Even in the Dark

April 21, 2009 - The Double-Edged Sword of UV Light

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ketchup Rheology Video

I've discussed ketchup rheology a couple of times in the past (1, 2), but a new TedEd video really does a great job of visually showing the rheology and also getting into some of the details.

Early in the project I had a few emails back and forth with George Zaidan, one of the creators. He's has a great talent for writing scripts, so much so that I have forever sworn off even attempting to ever write one. You can read his writing and easily imagine the finished product - that's quite a skill. I've read screenplays out of Hollywood [*] that aren't anywhere near the quality.

Check out the video when you have 4:29 to spare.

[*] I have this friend who knows this guy who acted with...who got me the script for this movie. I had my people call his people so we could do lunch, but we never could DeNiro to show up and so the whole project fell through. (The first sentence is entirely true. The verity of the second one is left as an exercise to the reader.)

Previous Years
April 14, 2011 - What's In a Name? Marketing Gobbledygook

April 14, 2011 - On the Move

April 14, 2010 - Modulation

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tell Me What You Really Feel

Brutal honesty makes for shocking conversation, and even more so when it comes from a politician (after all, they are permanently running for re-election). Diane Savino, a state senator from New York recently let loose on a proposal in New York City to charge 10 cents for plastic bags at the checkout, with people on public assistance being exempt from the charge. And she did it on Facebook for all the world to see.
"i have already called my councilman and told him to vote NO. it is not the 10 cents a bag, although, exempting those on Public Assistance is absurd and insulting to the rest of us. if good Environmental policy is to work, it requires an all in mentality. we don't exempt those of limited means from paying the 5 cent deposit on bottles and cans, do we? now don't bet me started on the Bottle Bill, but at least the approach is consistent to all. if you don't want the plastic bags, ban them, don't make us pay for them. as for allowing the retailers to keep the 10 cents so they will "invest" in paper and reusables, please! ban the bags, and that will happen overnight and that will lead to greater compliance. not some half-assed, feel good, limousine liberal approach! there i feel better now."
I'll bet you do!

(All typos are in the original source. I thought about [sic]-ing them, but it would have led to a thoroughly unreadable quote. This was a Ctrl-A,Ctrl-C,Ctrl-V cut-and-paste.)

I do agree that letting the retailers keep the 10 cents is a bad idea. For the store buying bags, plastics ones are cheaper than paper, hence their widespread use and the resistance by retailers to the bans and fees. I don't see how letting the retailers keep the money would provide any incentive at all for them to invest in paper and reusables. The bags themselves usually cost less than 10 cents, so now the consumers are paying for the bags and the retailers are literally profiting from them.

Previous Years
April 10, 2013 - A Hodgepodge of Rheology and Polymer Matters

April 10, 2012 - Potpourri

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Those Rich Petroleum Engineers

The Wall Street Journal yesterday had a poorly written opinion piece that was a mix of odds and ends that never really seemed to find its stride. The overall message is something of the following: petroleum engineering jobs are paying extremely well ($97,000 starting) but most schools are doing research on alternative energies and are brainwashing students not to go into petroleum engineering. Or since many schools don't offer that major, the students are also being guided away from what the author thought was alternative majors, such as Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences?!? I told you it was a bad opinion piece. Chemical Engineering is the traditional alternative to petroleum engineering, not Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. Lots of schools offer chemical engineering. It's a very popular major and showing no signs of dropping off, but saying that wouldn't help the author make whatever thin argument he was trying to stretch for.

Overlooking completely the implications
  1. that colleges should be guiding students to the most lucrative careers
  2. that research grants for improving petroleum processing are non-existent
  3. that research grants for alternative energy research are much more available
let me use this article as a platform to make a simple prediction about that shockingly high starting salary:

It's only going to get higher.

Whether or not the environmental movement is controlling this, that or the other thing, the petroleum industry is not going to go away anytime soon. While alternatives exist, they are nowhere near effective enough to replace the petroleum we are using, in large part because the magnitude of the world's energy needs is almost incomprehensibly large. You can put a number on it with a huge row of zeros, and as technical people we can say yes, that is a large number, but it is too large to really have a feel for what it means. So consider this anecdote instead: Drilling offshore oil wells is much more expensive than on land. Everything is far more difficult, the equipment is constantly corroding in the salt water. The ships used to drill the wells rent for $1 million a day and it can take a week or more to complete one well. Yet no oil company (independent or national) wants to stop making the investments. "Drill baby! Drill" is the battle cry.

Since the petroleum industry is not disappearing anytime soon and fewer people are apparently looking at petroleum engineering as a career, it makes it pretty easy to see that salaries are only going to go up. There is no choice. The industry needs the people and they can pay more to get them (and pass the costs onto you!).

I'm not opposing research into alternatives at all. At some point, they will play a critical role, but not yet, not any time soon.

Previous Years
April 9, 2013 - Can We All Get Along?

April 9, 2012 - Poor Posed Concerns About Chemical Safety

April 9, 2010 - A Neat New Set of Solvents