Gibson and Fawcett

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Gibson and Fawcett 2016-12-06T05:35:21+00:00



In the 1930s ICI established a series of research topics which included the study of high temperatures and high pressures on some organic compounds. It was hoped that new reactions and useful products would be found for commercial benefit.

In March 1933 Reginald Gibson and Eric Fawcett carried out an experiment to react ethylene with benzaldehyde in basic equipment using extreme pressures up to 2000 atmospheres at 170 centigrade. A small amount of white, waxy solid was found in the reaction vessel which Fawcett identified as a polymer of ethylene. This could be melted and drawn into threads. The work was strongly pursued but awaited the installation of much improved safer equipment and premises for such hazardous work where reproducibility of results would be essential for progress.

The situation improved greatly in 1935 when Michael Perrin determined reproducible conditions and produced 8g of polyethylene with melting point 115 degrees C. This low density polyethylene product was found to have interesting moulding and electrical properties and was patented in 1936 by ICI (BP 471,590 dated 6th September 1937).