Are ‘plastics’ nasty or fantastic? What makes polymers stand out? Are they making our life more comfortable or more miserable? Can fundamental research contribute to improvement of the properties of man-made materials so they continue to replace scarce natural resources but will ‘die’ at the end of their useful life?
Since 10,000 BC man used naturally occurring materials for warmth, safety and comfort. The relative importance that the four classes of materials: metals, polymers, composites and ceramics played in mechanical and civil engineering was changing with time. The discovery of synthetic polymers (plastics) in the 1850’s and their subsequent industrial production starting from 1900 or thereabouts, had dramatic influence on economy worldwide. It contributed to the – unprecedented in history – wealth creation and increase of prosperity, especially in the Western world. But this success story has a sinister side to it as well: we are drowning in seemingly indestructible materials, and places available for landfill are running out.
Dr Barbara J Gabrys is the Divisional Academic Advisor Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences Division, Department of Materials,
University of Oxford.
Tea/Coffee from 1800, talk begins 18.30.