Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Malcolm Renfrew Oct. 12, 1910 - Oct. 12, 2013 Chemist Who Helped Figure out What to Do with Teflon

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Malcolm Renfrew Oct. 12, 1910 - Oct. 12, 2013 Chemist Who Helped Figure out What to Do with Teflon

Article excerpt

Chemist Malcolm Renfrew never imagined that his work would one day become synonymous with the nonstick frying pan. As a young man in the 1930s, he dreamed of acting and joined a traveling tent show.

The tent, however, burned down, which sent Mr. Renfrew back to studying chemistry and, in 1938, a job researching plastics at DuPont laboratories in New Jersey.

When a colleague investigating refrigerants accidentally invented a substance resistant to chemicals and heat, DuPont gave Mr. Renfrew and his team the task of figuring out what to do with it.

Mr. Renfrew, who oversaw the development of that compound -- polytetrafluoroethylene resin, later trademarked as Teflon -- died of age-related causes at his home in Moscow, Idaho, on Oct. 12, his 103rd birthday.

His death was confirmed by the University of Idaho, where he taught for 17 years.

Teflon was the inadvertent discovery of Roy J. Plunkett, a DuPont chemist who was trying to develop a nontoxic refrigerant. When his lab assistant accidentally cracked the valve on a bottle of Freon gas they were testing, they examined the inside of the bottle and found the gas had turned into a slippery white powder with unique properties: heat, electricity, acids, solvents -- nothing seemed to react with it.

The mystery substance was sent to Mr. Renfrew, who with his team "worked on developing methodology for making this in the lab" and pursued commercial applications, said Jean'ne Shreeve, a University of Idaho chemistry professor who knew Mr. Renfrew for more than 50 years.

Its first use outside the laboratory was top secret.

World War II was on when Mr. Renfrew and his superiors were contacted by a physics professor at Columbia University, who told them "there was a project being started to determine the outcome of the war," Mr. Renfrew recalled in the Lewiston (Idaho) Morning Tribune in 2007. …

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