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Rubber education: a short history, a long future.

Rubber education: A short history, a long future

"Polymers, Look and See" (to the tune of "This Old Man")

Polymers, look and see, They can feel differently, Like a skateboard, Hard as it can be, Polymers are made for me.

Polymers, look and see, They can feel differently, Like a pillow, Soft and fluffy, Polymers are made for me.

Polymers, look and see, They can feel differently, Like some silly-willy putty, Gooey as can be, Polymers are made for me.

Polymers, look and see, They can feel differently, Like a tube of super-duper glue, Polymers are made for YOU!

Elementary school students in Akron sing this song from "Polymer Primer," a text used in grades one through three. In fourth grade, they begin a second text, "Akron's Polymer Adventure." By the time they leave sixth grade they know the difference between a monomer and a polymer, and the difference between thermoplastics and thermosets. They know that when they grow up they can be polymer scientists or compounders, and they know something about the role of rubber in their hometown's history.

But Akron's is a special case. Most students entering graduate programs in

polymer science know far too little about polymers, one of the polymer educator's chief headaches. Consequently, the ACS has for many years promoted the inclusion of polymer subjects in undergraduate curricula.

Those who earn their Ph.D.s, on matter what their specialization, have a bright future as industry and academia scramble for the best and the brightest.

Those wanting to specialize in rubber have fewer options as to graduate schools. Their choice is likely to be found in what is still considered the Rubber Capital of the World (sans manufacturing), Akron, where The University of Akron offered the first course in rubber chemistry, well before rubber chemistry was fully understood.

The rubber industry discovered the value of chemists around the turn of the century when chemists discovered how to improve the quality of rubber. When B.F. Goodrich's son, Charles, returned to Akron from Harvard with his chemistry degree in 1895, he set up what was probably the industry's first lab. At the nearby Diamond Rubber Company, chemists found in 1906 that aniline oil would speed curing and other compounds would make rubber more uniform, or improve it in other ways. In 1911, Diamond's chemists were trying to synthesize rubber.

The chemist's new role in the rubber industry was not lost on chemistry professor and industrial consultant Charles M. Knight of Buchtel College and Academy (later The University of Akron). Using rubber processing machinery donated by local companies, Knight was teaching rubber chemistry in his classes in 1905. In 1910, he began a two semester course, "Chemistry of India Rubber," covering "the various crude gums, solvents and methods of analysis of soft-cured rubbers," and in the second semester, "theories of vulcanization, compounding, curing, and theories of reclaiming and their practical application" (ref. 1).

At about the time Knight was planning his first course, the India Rubber Division of the ACS was formed, bringing together chemists working on the elusive material. Among the first members were Charles Goodrich, Division chairman, and Knight, chairman of the Committee on the Testing of Rubber.

When Knight retired in 1913, Hezzleton Simmons - who received his B.S. in chemistry from UA in 1908 and would later become president of the university and a Goodyear Medalist (1952) - taught the rubber chemistry courses for the next 20 years. He made the most of his lectures, basing a correspondence course on them. In 1921, he turned the lectures into a book, "Rubber Manufacture" (ref. 2).

A book titled "Plantation Rubber and the Testing of Rubber" by George Stafford Whitby was published in 1920. Whitby had been a chemist on a French plantation in Malaya before earning his Ph.D. in chemistry from McGill University in Montreal, also in 1920. He taught at McGill until 1929, when he became director of the Division of Chemistry in Canada's National Research Council in Ottawa. While there, he continued his work in synthetic rubber, studying vinyl monomers, especially the dienes. He won the first Colwyn Medal of Great Britain, also in 1929.

Research at this time dealt with compounding and vulcanization, and there was scientific interest in why these processes worked. Americans had little interest in researching synthetics since there was a plentiful supply of natural rubber for North America from the plantations. Before Staudinger's amazing research became widely known, rubber was amazement enough. "There is no substitute, and essentially every material known has been tried, to take the place of rubber. Rubber serves, and serves remarkably," wrote Goodrich Vice President William Geer in "The Reign of Rubber" in 1922 (ref. 9).

In 1931, Simmons began offering his classes in the evening, which meant attendance by rubber company employees working during the day. Another Akron chemistry grad, Howard Kramer (B.S. '26), took over the rubber chemistry classes when Simmons became university president in 1933. Kramer added "Chemistry of Latex Technology" as an evening graduate course in 1937.

At MIT, rubber research began in 1933, and in 1935 E.A. Hauser developed it into an extensive research school.

Whitby, who had been collaborating with Simmons on rubber compounding chemistry research, left Canada to be director of the Chemical Research Laboratories of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in England in 1939, but it was to be a short stay.

With word of synthetics coming out of Russia and Germany, the idea of synthesizing must have seemed an exciting field to young chemists, as it did to Maurice Morton, who left an Industrial post in the early 1940s for graduate school at McGill.

That excitement was nothing compared to what came in the '40s. Or rather, who came. Herman Mark came to the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute (now Polytechnic University) in 1940. Whitby, invited by his colleague Simmons, came to The University of Akron in 1942. Both brought the polymer revolution to the American classroom.

Mark, who had done basic studies on rubber elasticity in the 1930s, established what is considered the first formal course in polymer chemistry shortly after he arrived, having fled the Nazis a few years earlier. He also developed the first American master's and doctoral program with a major in polymer chemistry.

Mark and physicist Isidor Frankuchen began offering courses to industrial chemists, first an intensive two-week summer course on polymer science and X-ray diffraction analysis. In addition to serving the industrial hunger for knowledge in this new field, they wanted to raise money for faculty travel, and were successful. Their courses attracted industrial and academic chemists, strengthening ties between academia and industry, just as Knight and Simmons had done in Akron.

This work drew new faculty and grad students to the program, enabling Mark to establish the Polymer Research Institute.

Like Mark, Whitby added polymer science courses after arriving at Akron: in 1944, "Chemistry of Plastics" and "Chemistry of Plastics Laboratory"; in 1947, "Polymers and Polymerization" and "Physics of High Polymers" (changed in 1948 to "Physical Chemistry of High Polymers"), with a second course added the next year (ref. 4). For some time during this period, Whitby was the only one in the country teaching rubber chemistry.

Whitby was "very unusual in that he was one of the very few rubber chemists who started in the early days of natural rubber and was still able to contribute to the newly developing science of polymerization and synthetic rubber" Morton has said (ref. 5).

War came in the midst of these changes and America's southeast Asian natural rubber supply was threatened. The excitement of synthetics became the necessity of synthetics and rubber chemists, who had been essential to industry, now became essential to the government's plan.

In 1942 in Akron, the bureaucratically titled Rubber Research Discussion Group of the Copolymer Research Section, Office of the Assistant Deputy Rubber Director for Research and Development of Synthetics, held its first meeting. The goal was to recruit the country's top chemists for the synthetic rubber project. Among the industrial chemists there were several academics and former academics - P.J. Flory of Esso Laboratories, C.S. Marvel from the University of Illinois, H.S. Taylor and A. Tobolsky from Princeton, and Whitby.

As the program developed, Whitby's role was to direct a small group of chemists and graduate students in the synthetic rubber program, in addition to his teaching duties. The university was also charged with managing the government lab in Akron.

While the synthetic rubber project received sharp criticism from one corner, (ref. 6) the chemists involved saw it as not only successful in its original purpose, but as a boon to science and education.

"The Rubber Reserve Program saw the greatest cooperation the world has ever seen among industry, academia and government," said S.E. Horne, who duplicated the natural rubber molecule at Goodrich Gulf Chemicals and patented it in 1954 (ref. 7).

"The opportunity of academic and industrial scientists to meet frequently (at least semi-annually) for several days to exchange information freely helped greatly to stimulate creative new ideas," said Morton. "This was especially important since this program took place at a time when the science of macromolecules was truly in its infancy. Hence it is not surprising that the basic knowledge which was gained from this research was not only relevant to synthetic rubber but to macromolecules in general" (ref. 8).

The major scientific advances made during this effort "led to the rapid advances of polymer science that we have witnessed during the past 30 years," Morton wrote in 1981 (ref. 9).

Whitby invited Morton to Akron to be his assistant in 1948, with the idea that Morton would take over when Whitby retired. The two had met at McGill where Whitby served as one of Morton's dissertation examiners. Morton, a chemistry professor at Sir George Williams College (later Concordia University) in Montreal, had been the first student in Canada to do research on synthetic rubber.

Whitby and now Morton had the enthusiastic backing of the new university president, Norman P. Auburn, who was determined to see the rubber program and the newer additions in polymer science grow. At that time, synthetic rubber was the university's only funded research. Morton, while building the curriculum in polymers, maintained the university's strength in rubber. Akron was, after all, the Rubber Capital of the World, and the demand for rubber courses was high.

Indicative of the changes taking place, Morton was made professor of polymer chemistry in 1953. Whitby had been professor of rubber chemistry.

By 1956, Morton had convinced the administration to start Akron's first doctoral program, in, of course, polymer chemistry. Three years later, the first five doctorates were awarded, all done under Morton's supervision.

Also in 1956 - a very busy year at the university - Morton established the Institute of Rubber Research.

At this point, "rubber chemistry" had come of age with the development of synthetics. Polymers became the area of excitement and those teaching rubber chemistry forged ahead into Polymer science.

At Cleveland's Case Institute of Technology (which had participated in the wartime synthetic rubber project under professor Samuel Meron, and later became Case Western Reserve University), Eric Baer formed a department of macromolecular science in 1963.

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst began a graduate program in polymer science and engineering in 1967. It became a department in 1974.

In Akron, the Institute of Rubber Research gave way to the materials revolution and became the Institute of Polymer Science in 1964, with Morton remaining as director. Three years later, he was named head of the new department of polymer science.

The 1970s saw polymer education spread to more schools, and grow in those schools which had dealt with rubber, although there probably were only about 125 American universities offering courses in polymer science (ref. 10).

Case, for example, established in 1970 a B.S. in engineering with a major in polymer science, the first such program in the U.S.

Considerable effort has been made since the late 1960s to broaden polymer course offerings both geographically and academically by introducing undergraduates to polymers. At a 1967 ACS meeting, Morton organized a panel discussion which found "an astonishing lack of emphasis" on polymer chemistry at the undergraduate level (ref. 11). In 1972, he chaired an ACS symposium on how student interest in classical academic chemistry classes can be enhanced by the integration of polymer topics.

Charles E. Carraher, dean of the College of Science at Florida Atlantic University and a frequent writer on polymer education, was one of the prime movers for improving the emphasis on polymers through the ACS Polymer Chemistry Committees on Education and Public Relations. By 1978, the ACS had determined that polymer chemistry must be included in the core material for chemistry majors to receive ACS accreditation.

Rubber education today

A look at some of the educational opportunities offered worldwide:

Sweden - Scandinavia's most extensive and best-supported polymer education and training program includes the Swedish Institution of Rubber Technology (an industrial organization), the Swedish Plastics and Rubber Institute, the rubber unit of the Association of Swedish Chemical Industries, and a polymer research department at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

West Germany - Rubber education courses are offered by:

* The Association for Work Study and Plant Organization, Darmstadt, an industry-funded organization, offers courses on rubber chemistry and technology, one course teaching fundamentals, the second more advanced material for engineers, technicians and other professionals in production.

* The Fachgruppe Makromoleculare Chemie, a constituent group of the German Chemical Society, promotes the study of macromolecular science by assisting in the development of polymer science courses and by supporting basic polymer research.

The Netherlands - The Stichting Opleiding Rubber en Kuntstoffen offers basic courses as well as correspondence and practical courses for technologists.

The United Kingdom - There has been a widely reported shortage of technicians in the rubber industry along with a shortage of students in rubber technology courses. Offerings include the following:

* The British Plastics and Rubber Institute promotes education in rubber, plastics and allied industries. It also acts as a qualifying body for plastics and rubber technologists, and validates courses in Sweden and the Netherlands.

* Non-technical training is offered by the British Rubber Industry Training Organization (BRITO).

* Loughborough University of Technology in Leicestershire last year merged its Department of Materials Engineering and the Institute of Polymer Technology to form the Institute of Polymer Technology and Materials Engineering. Courses, ranging from rubber mixing and rheology to materials engineering, lead to a M.S. in polymer technology, and involve 20 full-time and 20 part-time students per year. Undergraduates can earn a diploma in industrial studies and apply for status as Chartered Chemist and Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry, for a licentiateship of the Royal Society of Chemistry, or can become chartered engineers.

* The National College of Rubber Technology at the Polytechnic of North London has become the London School of Polymer Technology.

* Courses in rubber are also available at the University of Bradford, Aston University, the University of Leeds, the University of Wales, the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, Queen's University of Belfast, the Polytechnic of Wales; Plymouth Polytechnic, Cranfield Institute of Technology and Newcastle upon Tyne Polytechnic.

* The Rubber and Plastics Research Association (RAPRA) offers research, consultative and information services in all aspects of rubber and plastics technology.

France - More than 45 courses are offered by the Institut National de Formation et d'Enseignement Professionel du Caoutchouc, including three-day short courses.

Italy - The Center for Research and Development in the Use of Elastomers offers a two-week course on rubber technology, as well as short courses and technical seminars. The Associazione Italiana de Scienza e Tecnologia delle Macromolecule organizes meetings between industrial and academic scientists.

Poland - The Technical University in Lodz has an Institute of Polymer Science primarily concerned with rubber and rubber technology, chemistry of polyamides and silicones, polymer physics, and leather technology.

Spain - The Institute of Plastics and Rubber in Madrid offers courses to graduate students and technical scientists. In the rubber section, research concentrates on sepiolite, a magnesium silicate offering interesting reinforcing ability.

Czechoslovakia - The department of polymers at the Prague Institute of Chemical Technology has been formed from the department of macromolecular chemistry and the department of rubber and plastics technology, and educational area that began in the late 1940s.

At the Technical University of Brno, located in an area of rubber and plastics industries, is the largest Czechoslovakian industrial research institute in applied polymer research, the Research Institute of Rubber and Plastics Technology. Concentration is on solving technological and engineering problems of rubber and plastics processing.

Israel - The Rubber Research Association, Ltd. in Technion City promotes the advancement of the rubber industry in Israel.

Nigeria - The Rubber Research Institute of Nigeria in Benin City does research on natural rubber.

Japan - Research in rubber is being done at the Aichi Institute of Technology and in thermoplastic elastomers at the Himeji Institute of Technology. Kyoto University offers undergraduate, master's, and doctoral degrees in polymer and synthetic chemistry.

The People's Republic of China - Rubber research, particularly in thermoplastic elastomers, silicone rubber blends and compatibility of rubber with polypropylene, is carried out at the Changchun Institute of Applied Chemistry, the oldest and largest of the 15 chemistry research institutes of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Education is through the doctoral level. Also, research on synthesis of polyurethane elastomers is being conducted at Chengdu Institute of Organic Chemistry.

Taiwan - Courses on rubber are offered at:

* National Tsing Hua University, which formed an Institute of Polymer Science in its graduate school in 1978.

* At the Tamking College of Arts and Sciences near Taipei, Professor Meng Kuo Yeh, who received his doctorate studying under Morton at Akron, teaches courses in rubber chemistry and technology.

* At the Tatung Institute of Technology, undergraduate as well as doctoral-level graduate students do research in rubber technology, one of five areas of polymer studies.

India - The Rubber Technology Center, one of seven Centers of Excellence, at the Indian Institute of Technology has received wide recognition for its research and teaching in rubber science and technology. The master's program trains students for both production and R&D. The Center also offers short courses for industrial technologists. Also:

* The Department of Plastics and Rubber Technology at Calcutta University offers bachelor's and master's degrees in rubber and plastics technology. The British Plastics and Rubber Institute works closely with Calcutta University in organizing intensive polymer courses, workshops, seminars and symposia.

* The Rubber Board and Rubber Research Institute of India in Kerala promotes industry development and research. Its library contains 30,000 volumes.

Sri Lanka - The Rubber Research Institute of Sri Lanka offers research and advisory services on rubber planting and manufacture with a staff of about 500.

Malaysia - The Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia, a unit of the Malaysian Rubber Research and Development Board, in Kuala Lumpur, offers extension services, technical advisory services and information on all aspects of rubber production.

Thailand - The Rubber Research Centre is in Hat Yai, Songkhla in the Department of Agriculture.

Viet-Nam - The Rubber Economic-Technological Institute of Viet-Nam is in Ho Chi Minh City. It has a library of 30,000 volumes.

American rubber education today

A student in any university polymer science program will deal with rubber during his graduate career. Rubber is fundamental to understanding the behavior of polymers in general and is one of three major divisions of polymers, the other two being plastic and fiber, as defined by Morton.

There will, of course, always be a need for teaching rubber science, and not just to maintain our current knowledge. As Frank Kelley, dean of Akron's new College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering Department, explains, "there is a substantial and growing base of knowledge about the behavior of polymers in the rubber-like state. Polymers in that state are more tractable.

"It's unfortunate that people view the technology as very mature and therefore take it for granted," Kelley says. "Then they find out something has failed and find out the people putting it together don't know as much as they should."

In the late 1970s, following Morton's retirement as director of Akron's Institute of Polymer Science, the polymer science faculty discussed whether or not to concentrate on the new, higher growth areas of plastics and composites and abandon Akron's heritage in rubber education.

"The general feeling was," Kelley recalls, "that if we're the only one and we're pre-eminent, why change? We decided to stay significantly involved in elastomers, though they would not be as dominant a part of the program as in the past."

Polymer educators from three institutions involved with rubber in varying degrees see generally similar challenges and problems facing education. The universities represent a broad range of involvement with rubber: The University of Akron, which is strongly involved in rubber education; Case Western Reserve University, which is involved with rubber, though not to the extent that Akron is; and The University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which has only short courses dealing solely with elastomers.

The educators are: Frank Kelley, Dean of the world's only College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering and Maurice Morton, Regents Professor Emeritus of Polymer Chemistry and 1988 recipient of the ACS's Polymer Education Award, both from Akron; Alex Jamieson, professor of macromolecular science and director of the department's graduate studies program at Case; and William McKnight, head of the polymer science and engineering department and the Lederle Graduate Research Center, and Simon Kantor, research professor and director of the Center for UMass Industry Research on Polymers, a cooperative research program with industry and the government established under the NSF-Industry University Cooperative Research Center Program in 1980, both from UMass.

While rubber is considered a mature industry and a mature science, there are frontiers and challenges, says Kelley. "One challenge that is very significant is to move from the compounder's art to the compounder's science," he says. "Entire industries depend on the knowledge of rather senior compounders. What they carry with them is more of a sense of how things should be done. Most of the senior compounders learned their knowledge from earlier compounders."

A major challenge that seems to face all American polymer programs is recruiting American students, or at least students who plan to remain in America.

"The top U.S. students interested in graduate school in the sciences and engineering is a very small number," Kelley says. "All university graduate programs are drawing from the same small pool."

Kantor notes that "the supply of qualified American students is dwindling because of the quality of education at the secondary school level, an area the ACS has been focusing some attention on lately. The pre-college educational system "has to be revitalized," he says, "because by the time they get to college it's too late."

In the case of polymer science, the problem persists through the undergraduate years. "The field doesn't have sufficient academic recognition, so few are exposed to polymers," says McKnight.

At Case, says Jamieson, "we have to do quite a bit of retraining."

The great irony in the difficulty of recruiting American students into polymer programs in general is that they are practically guaranteed a good job after graduation.

Polymer science and engineering courses are, however, beginning to appear in undergraduate curricula.

Undergraduates at UMass had such strong interest in the graduate courses, the chemistry department responded with an undergraduate course. The chemical engineering program also has a polymer option for seniors.

At Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, where James McGrath, Garth Wilkes and Donald Baird are involved in rubber research, polymer science and engineering courses are available to undergrads, who can select a full spectrum of polymer courses to supplement degrees in their respective departments.

At the University of Southern California, undergraduates in chemistry and engineering were offered an academic minor in polymer science beginning in 1988. Seven completed the minor option last year.

CWRU began a B.S. in engineering with a major in polymer science, the first such American program to receive accreditation from the Engineering Council for Professional Development. Students are encouraged to participate in departmental research and co-op programs with industry.

Faculty recruitment has taken on an interesting twist with the current wave of corporate restructurings and consequent, shortsighted R&D cutbacks. Some very good research scientists are moving to academic posts, observes McKnight.

Competition for top faculty is still intense, especially in engineering, since more universities are moving toward polymer studies and industry still has the appeal of high salaries.

McKnight says that need not be an obstacle, since a scientist can make as much money in academia, though he has to raise it himself.

The University of Akron finds it difficult to find good rubber scientists. "We turn out a lot of talented graduates in elastomers, but we try not to be ingrown by hiring our own people," says Kelley, an Akron grad himself.

The rubber industry has historically maintained a strong relationship with universities, particularly in the Akron-Cleveland area, where the industry has been so dominant.

Kelley's office found in a recent study that about 30 percent of Akron's industrial financial support is for rubber research.

At Case, Jamieson estimates about 25 percent of funding is for rubber research.

While industry funding has not, in general, been decreasing, Jamieson said it is getting more difficult to raise money from industry thanks to R&D cutbacks.

In the past 90 years, rubber education has moved from Knight's first rubber chemistry lectures to being a major beneficiary of wartime strategy and subsequently a foundation for the study of an entire class of materials. It is a mature science, so where to now?

In the Rubber Capital, the course is steady as she goes. Kelley expects the relative number of rubber course offerings to remain the same at Akron and other universities, but he does see severe research challenges for extended performance in aggressive environments, such as aerospace. "The major challenge is in the effective processing and fabrication of components."

Jamieson sees research and teaching moving toward more sophisticated types of polymeric materials. "Most universities are trying to push the frontiers," he said. "Composites are one of the issues of increasing importance."

Kantor believes student interest in rubber is on the wane, partly because rubber was so well studied in the early days of polymers and partly because there have been few new rubber products lately. He does say that TPEs have given the field a resurgence of interest.

Morton sees growth in education and observes that we are now in the midst of change due to the importance of polymers in higher education. "The change has been happening," he said. "As far as I can see the future, there will be more and more education at both levels, science and technology."

In 1946, Whitby paraphrased Kipling to sum up the multidisciplinary nature of an education in rubber. It might now be said of any polymer. "What do they know of rubber who only rubber know?"

PHOTO : G. Stafford Whitby was one of the very few rubber chemists who started in the early days of natural rubber.


[1.] Maurice Morton, "From rubber chemistry to polymers: A history of polymer science at The University of Akron," Rubber Chemistry and Technology 62, No. 1 (March-April, 1989): 22. [2.] Morton, 27. [3.] William C. Geer, The reign of rubber, New York: The Century Co., 1922) 325. [4.] Morton, 32. [5.] Morton, 30. [6.] Robert Solo, Across the high technology threshold: The case of synthetic rubber, Norwood, Pa.: Norwood Editions, 1980, 108. [7.] S.E. Horne, Jr., "History of synthetic rubber," Rubber Division 75th Anniversary: 1909-1984, Akron: Rubber World (Special Issue), October, 1984. [8.] Maurice Morton, "History of synthetic rubber," J. Macromol. Sci - Chem., A15(7), 1299-1300. [9.] Morton, "History of synthetic Rubber," 1300. [10.] Charles E. Carraher, Jr., "History of polymer education - USA," in History of Polymer Science and Technology, ed., Raymond B. Seymour (New York and Basel: Marcel Dekker, Inc., 1982), 185. [11.] Carraher, 182.
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Title Annotation:Rubber World 100th anniversary; includes listing of courses
Author:Ewers, David
Publication:Rubber World
Date:Oct 1, 1989
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