The history of acrylic

Filed under: Features — Posted by: Barry on July 4, 2013

Acrylic plastic, or polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) as it is scientifically known, is a transparent plastic which is widely used in today’s many industries. Due to its shatter resistant and lightweight properties, it is ideal for many purposes – most commonly as an alternative to glass because its properties make it much more durable and safe.

Acrylic plastic is made up of different compounds, all of which have a specific history of their own. Both methacrylic acid and acrylonitrile are used in the production of acrylic plastic, and were substances on their own before they came into mass usage for what we now know as plastic.

In the beginning

Methacrylic acid forms part of the basis for acrylic plastic, and it was discovered in 1865 in Europe. It was derived from acrylic acid and was researched into during 1877 when Fittig and Paul, two German chemists, discovered the polymerisation process in which the substance turns into a polymer.

It was not until 1933 that methacrylic acid’s uses were found by German scientist, Otto Rohm, who patented the product and called it Plexiglas – a well-known brand of acrylic plastic with many uses. He started selling it in 1937, and hundreds of companies have their own version of the plastic today, but still keep the production methods the same.

Acrylonitrile is also a precursor to the manufacture of acrylic acid, and therefore acrylic plastic. In 1893, a French chemist called Charles Moureau discovered the substance, but did not have a use for it to begin with. He had no idea that this substance would become a particularly valuable discovery that has led to the production of millions of tons of the material all across the world.

During the war

The discovery of acrylonitrile was indeed a valuable one, but because the outbreak of World War I hindered many processes and put things on hold, the substance was not put to its full uses until after the war when slowly its applications were discovered. By the 50s, the process of manufacturing acrylic textiles was more common.

Acrylic plastic’s place in history

Acrylic plastic is one of the oldest acrylic materials that are commercially produced today, and Plexiglas is a widely used material. Since its production, it has been used in the manufacture of aeroplanes, bomber planes, and also many other ordinary items. Its lightweight properties make it an ideal alternative to ordinary glass and it is easy to weld and join together to form a glasslike appearance.

Acrylic plastic still has numerous uses today, including being used in making bulletproof materials for vehicles or helmets, aquariums, and fibre optic items. Despite its current many uses, U.S. researchers are still looking into the material’s properties to find out more about it. This includes both business and medical uses, as it is a safe substance to implant into the body for replacement surgeries.

One of the best things about it is its diversity because, as well as its many material uses, it can also be used in creating acrylic paints that provide hardwearing properties to their user.

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