Dr. Glaser’s “Chemistry in the News” HMO* style
To Accompany Wade, Organic Chemistry, 4/e.
Chapter 6  Alkyl halides:  Nucleophilic Substitution and Elimination
Chapter 7  Structure and Synthesis of Alkenes
Chapter 8  Reactions of Alkenes
Chapter 2.11-2.13  Intermolecular Bonding



The Guardian, March 25, 1999



Do you know what some may argue is the most important discovery for the modern plastics industry?  You may be surprised to find it in your kitchen cabinets!

Roy J. Plunkett was certainly surprised in the 1930s when he accidentally invented what is now known as Teflon.  In fact, many households today take their non-stick cookware for granted.  Little do they know that Teflon, which gives cookware it's non-stick property, is a polymer composed of tetrafluoroethylene (C2F4) monomers. 

As discussed in this article, Teflon also aids in keeping materials sterile.  By replacing ethene's hydrogens with fluorine atoms, the chemical attains a slippery quality that prevents bacteria from binding to it.  Since molecules connect by sharing or exchanging electrons, it reasons that fluorine, the most electronegative element, resists interactions with other molecules.  The fluorine's large size shields the interior carbons, preventing them from reacting-thus nothing sticks to Teflon.

Teflon's lack of chemical reactivity lends it to literally endless possible uses.  It is a well-known registered trademark of the Dupont Corporation, which has promoted their product in a variety of foreign and domestic markets. One interesting use in the field of chemical science is the production of bottles for storage of the reagents used in trace analysis.  Teflon, as well as improvements in detection, allows impurities to be detected at the sup-ppb level.

While some claim there are hidden environmental dangers of Teflon and its fumes, we simply recommend not keeping your pet parakeet in the kitchen.  Teflon has become a household expression used far beyond the bounds of non-stick cookware and its chemical properties-even used to poke fun at the Prime Minister of England.



Question 1: What is the formula and organization of the monomer unit of Teflon?

Question 2: How might the monomer unit of Teflon be synthesized? Give a detailed mechanism for the synthesis.

Question 3: A major benefit to these new super-slippery polymers is improved hygiene. What are some reasons this new way of keeping things sterile might be better than the old way of heat sterilization by autoclaves? Are there any reasons that the old way might be better?

Question 4: How are the intermolecular Van der Waal's forces affected when we replace the hydrogens in ethane with fluorines to make the monomer unit of Teflon? Also, why are the Van der Waal's forces affected at all?

Question 5: How might the use of these new super-slippery halogen saturated polymers eventually affect the environment? What might be some of the dangers associated with these new polymers?

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