PTFE, known chemically as poly(tetrafluoroethylene) or popularly by the trademarked moniker Teflon, holds a special place in my heart as my original motivation to pursue a career in science. When I was a girl with a barely double digit age, I became aware of my mother's non-stick frying pan as I was starting to participate in the daily household chores. This concept was fascinating to me, and so I went about the house in a trench coat pretending to be a scientist whose goal was to discover the next Teflon. My father wanted me to be an accountant instead because everyone needs an accountant.
My commitment to a science-based career wavered somewhat in my teens as I thought I could become the next J.D. Salinger, but it returned just in time to begin college (whew!). Ultimately, I would learn that I loved materials science, so I began a career focused on polymers which is shockingly consistent with my early days of pretending to be a scientist.
However, I digress from the topic of this post. The story of PTFE has all the trappings of great scientific discoveries. It happened by accident (think penicillin and silly putty) and under somewhat dangerous circumstances (cutting open a gas cylinder, not generally good laboratory practice). Now, this material and its variants are part our daily lives in applications such as cookware, electrical wiring coatings, and Gore-Tex clothing.
A much more thorough and well-written version of the discovery of PTFE was written by Tim Palucka and published in the May 2006 issue of the MRS Bulletin.