Friday, July 30, 2010

"What did Paul J. Flory do?"

This summer, I had a undergraduate student, Joshua Worch from Manchester College, Indiana, work with me on a NSF-REU funded project. After we wrapped up his practice talk this week, he said, "Did you know Paul Flory went to my college?"

This was priceless trivia, especially since Manchester College is a small (~1000 undergrads) liberal arts school.

Paul J. Flory, for the uninitiated, is a towering figure in polymer physics and chemistry, a Nobel Laureate, and the author of some of the most seminal papers in my research area.

Seeing that he had piqued my interest, Joshua added that the inventor of Teflon (Roy Plunkett) also went to school there (incidentally, both Plunkett and Flory got their PhDs from Ohio State, sworn nemesis of my alma mater, Michigan).

He then said many people at his school thought that it was Plunkett who got the Nobel Prize, because of his famous accidental discovery of Teflon.

As I was correcting him, he asked me, "So, what did Paul J. Flory do exactly?"

A part of me did not know where to start, and a part of me had a hard time pinning down his "one crowning achievement" - his record was littered with so many of them.

In fact even his Nobel citation reads, "for his fundamental achievements, both theoretical and experimental, in the physical chemistry of macromolecules."

Not much help there, huh!

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