Posted on Sep 20, 2012 in Other stuff, Science & nature
What is Silly Putty made out of? How did someone invent it — and why?
It’s hard to imagine that there has been a kid — or adult, for that matter — who hasn’t played with a lump of Silly Putty at some point in their lives.
The appropriately-named substance bounces, but breaks when given a sharp blow. You can form it into any shape you want, but if you leave it alone long enough, that shape will turn into a puddle. And, of course, you can still sometimes use it to transfer your favorite comic strip from the newspaper to another piece of paper. (Caveat: This trick only works well on newsprint that uses a petroleum-based ink — and most newspapers have now transitioned to the sharper, more environmentally-friendly and less-expensive soy-based inks.)
Silly Putty has even gone into space: the Apollo 8 astronauts used it as a stress reliever — and to stick their tools to the spacecraft’s walls to keep them from floating away.
The original silly putty was an orangeish-pink, but now you can find it in a few other varieties — including glow-in-the dark, color-changing and metallic versions.
So what is that stuff, and why did anyone make it in the first place?
The question of who actually invented Silly Putty is a matter of some debate. Earl Warrick of Dow Corning filed a patent in 1947, while James Wright of General Electric filed one in 1951 for essentially the same process.
While Warrick claimed until his death that he was the substance’s true innovator, Silly Putty’s own history recognizes Wright as the father of the toy. Regardless of which man actually invented the goo first, it arose out of an attempt to create an acceptable synthetic rubber substitute during WWII, as the Japanese had invaded and captured many of the rubber producing areas of the world.
>> Vintage article: Silly Putty: Wonder toy of the 20th century (1951)
It was during these attempts that both men discovered, independently, that reacting boric acid with silicone oil produced the gooey, bouncy, non-toxic material we came to know as Silly Putty. The full ingredient list for Dow Corning’s “3179 Dilatant Compound” which is simply generic Silly Putty (a trademarked name) — is as follows:
It may be helpful for some of you to know that you can, in fact, order this unbranded Silly Putty directly from Dow Corning in a minimum quantity of 100 pounds, if you’re so inclined. (Plastic eggs not included.)
Of course, if you want more than an egg’s worth of Silly Putty, but don’t feel like shelling out $800 to buy a hundred pounds of it, you can always roll your own… though I’m not sure you would want to try this process in your kitchen, since the process releases toxic hydrogen chloride gas.
Photo by PugnoM
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