German chemist who won the 1953 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for demonstrating
that polymers are long-chain molecules. His work laid the foundation
for the great expansion of the plastics industry later in the 20th century.
Staudinger's first discovery was that of the highly reactive organic compounds known as ketenes. His work on polymers began with research he conducted for the German chemical firm BASF on the synthesis of isoprene (1910), the monomer of which natural rubber is composed. The prevalent belief at the time was that rubber and other polymers are composed of small molecules that are held together by "secondary" valences or other forces. In 1922 Staudinger and J. Fritschi proposed that polymers are actually giant molecules (macromolecules) that are held together by normal covalent bonds, a concept that met with resistance from many authorities. Throughout the 1920s, the researches of Staudinger and others showed that small molecules form long, chainlike structures (polymers) by chemical interaction and not simply by physical aggregation. Staudinger showed that such linear molecules could be synthesized by a variety of processes and that they could maintain their identity even when subject to chemical modification.
Staudinger's pioneering work provided the theoretical basis for polymer
chemistry and greatly contributed to the development of modern plastics.
His researches on polymers eventually contributed to the development
of molecular biology, which seeks to understand the structure of proteins
and other macromolecules found in living organisms.
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