Radiation Chemistry Commercialized
Radiation chemistry, which uses high energy electrons to alter the structure of polymers, goes commercial Dec 24, 1957.
In 1950 the United States Government embarked on a search for peacetime applications for atomic energy. The most promising application was the nuclear power reactor, seen as an abundant source of clean energy. To extend the value of reactors to the commercial sector, the government funded research on uses for the radioactive by-products of reactor operations.
As part of that research, the reactor Development Division of the Atomic Energy Commission sponsored a study at the newly created Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Palo Alto, California. The purpose of the study, supervised by 25-year-old chemical engineer Paul Cook, was to determine the potential industrial uses of waste fission products — alpha emitters, beta emitters, and gamma ray producers.
The study concluded that there were limited industrial uses for waste fission products. However, as a result of these studies and subsequent experiments conducted by Cook at SRI and elsewhere, he became convinced that radiation could be used to develop new materials for industrial applications. When a reliable, low-cost source of ionizing radiation became available, Cook — with James B. Meikle and Richard W. Muchmore — founded the first company based on radiation chemistry, the field of knowledge concerned with the chemical effects of radiation on different materials. Cook and the employees of the company that became Raychem Corporation proved the commercial value of treating and altering the chemical structure of polymeric products in their final form, giving them special properties and characteristics that could not be easily created using any other method.
Visit National Historic Chemical Landmarks to read more about the commercialization of radiation chemistry.
Excerpted with permission, National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program