1274th OGM and open lecture - Royal Society of NSW News & Events - The Royal Society of NSW

1274th OGM and open lecture

Burford
   “Past, present and future of polymers:
    is the plastics age over?”

   Emeritus Professor Robert Burford FRSN
   UNSW

Date: Wednesday 3 July 2019, 6pm for 6.30
Venue: Gallery Room, State Library of NSW (enter by Shakespeare Place)
Entry (includes a welcome drink): $25 for non-members, $15 for Members and Associate Members of the Society 
Dress code: business
Dinner (including drinks): $85 for Members and Associate Members, $95 for non-members. Reservations must be made at least 2 days before.
Reservations: here
Enquiries: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or phone 9431 8691

The search for synthetic alternatives (including polymers) to scarce natural materials is not new, and substitution occurred well before today’s plastic bottles and packaging.  A reward of $10,000 for billiard balls, hitherto made from Sri Lankan elephant tusks, ultimately led to thermosets derived from cellulose.  Synthetic nylon stockings replaced unavailable silk (and made Du Pont wealthy) whilst synthetic rubber helped win the war.  The early history of polymer manufacture combines uneducated invention and entrepreneurship with debtor’s courts and skulduggery.  During the 20th century today’s ‘commodity’ polymers emerged, these being based on hydrocarbons including ethylene and propylene.  The public appetite for new synthetics that peaked in the 1950s and 60s (think of the movie The Graduate) has reversed despite polymer production showing unabated growth.  Scarcely a day now passes without reminders of waste, whether it is floating ‘continents’ or containers of Australian plastic being returned from overseas.  The solutions to today’s ‘polymer pollution’ need creative ideas and imaginative solutions but may provide lucrative opportunities.  Several possibilities wiere discussed..

Emeritus Professor Robert Burford has made and broken plastics and rubber for over 40 years, first investigating cracking in nylons before research at the Australian Synthetic Rubber Company.  Since joining UNSW in 1978 he has interacted with the polymer industry at many levels.  He took students to draconian factories to motivate them beyond the factory floor, was a Co-op Program coordinator to attract top students to sometimes enter the same factories, and has been actively engaged in consulting, often examining polymer failures.  He was a lead researcher with the Cooperative Research Centre for Polymers, helping for example to develop a new family of fire performance cables.  He retired as Head of Chemical Engineering at UNSW in 2014 but still consults and volunteers at the Powerhouse Museum in conservation.

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