Silicone products are a mainstay in many industries where their chemical inertness and low thermal conductivity are highly valued in a variety of applications. In this article, we’ll take a look at how they first came into being, the people who were instrumental in their creation and how they have been used.
Silicone was developed for industrial use in the twentieth century, beginning in 1930, when American scientist James Franklin Hyde carried out the first research into producing silicones commercially. Dr. Hyde transformed a group of compounds that contained the element silicon into silicones. His work was developed further in1940 by Frederick Stanley Kipping, an English scientist who achieved the synthesis of silicone compounds and was the first person to coin the name ‘silicones’. That same year, the method of synthesising silicones on an industrial scale was achieved by both Eugene George Rochow and Richard Gustav Müller independently.
One of the first uses of silicone was in fact as a toy. In 1950, Silly Putty was launched in the USA, a product that contained viscoelastic silicone that could bounce yet become almost a liquid over time. The putty was based on research into the use of silicones by the Americans in World War II.
In 1969, Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon. He took those steps while wearing boots with silicone rubber soles. The lunar landing and command modules also used a variety of silicones to protect the crew and its support systems.
Silicones are widely used in the car, food, medical and electrical industries in the form of sheeting, tubing and as sealants. This is due to its ability to withstand temperature extremes, low chemical connectivity and electrical insulation properties.