Material of the Day: Vulcanized Rubber by Zuri McFarlane

The material of the day is vulcanized rubber. It's used to make tires, seals, and shoe soles. When considering cars, tires can be easily overlooked due to how cars are portrayed and advertised. While the engine, transmission, drive-train, and chassis are some of the most important components in operating a vehicle, the tires are the only component of the car that actually touch the ground.

My interest in vulcanized rubber peaked as I started to follow Formula 1. One of the career paths that's on my mind right now is to get into motor sports, in particular F1. In this sport, tires are one of the most talked about aspects. As I followed it more, my interest in vulcanized rubber grew.

Who invented it?

Charles Goodyear discovered the vulcanization of rubber in 1839. He spent most of his life dedicated to improve upon its use. He decided to go into rubber development after he visited the Roxbury India Rubber Company in New York in 1834. He saw a set of rubber life vests and thought that he could make better rubber valves for them. After he made a valve and came back to the store, the manager told him that he should've invented something more useful for rubber. From then on, Goodyear spent years experimenting with rubber. He was backed up by investors but, went into debt. He even sold family possessions to keep experimenting. It wasn't until 1839 in Massachusetts that Goodyear made a discovery by accident. While working with the rubber factories in the area, Goodyear mixed rubber and sulfur in a stove. It was from then that he found out that the rubber didn't melt and, was durable when heated. In 1844, Goodyear finally patented an effective procedure mix and heat, or vulcanize, the rubber with sulfur. He had health problems due to many years of exposure to chemicals from his experiments. He died in 1860.

Charles Goodyear - (http://www.biography.com/people/charles-goodyear-9315611#synopsis)
Natural rubber comes from Hévea Brasiliensis, or rubber tree. It comes from a sticky white liquid known as latex. The latex is part water, part rubber particles. It's a polymer of isoprene in which the units are long, tangled, and loosely connected, giving rubber its elastic property.

Why vulcanize rubber?

Rubber has long, tangled molecules that allow it to be stretchy but, the links are weak by themselves. When it gets hot, it melts easily and, when it gets cold, it hardens quickly. Vulcanizing, or cooking, the rubber with sulfur creates cross links in between the rubber atoms as shown below. These cross links make covalent bonds which allow rubber to be used in a practical sense. The rubber retains its elasticity but, it's less susceptible to changes in temperature. It's also more durable which then allows significant weight to be placed on it. With this in mind, the main components of any car can be assembled and placed on the tires which then roll, propelling the car forward or backward. When the surroundings are hot, the bonds in the rubber of the tires become looser which creates a bigger contact on the road which generates more friction on the road. This frictional force in turn creates more speed for cornering. Tires affect their cars more than they would think.

Polyisoprene - (http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Vulcanization)

Conclusion

Rubber by itself is a weak substance but, when vulcanized with sulfur, it becomes something that is essential for creating things that we use daily. The sulfur creates cross links that make stronger bonds between the polyisoprene atoms, making rubber practical. Like many inventions before it, vulcanized rubber was accidentally discovered by an ambitious inventor(Charles Goodyear). Without it we wouldn't have cars today.

References

1. http://connecticuthistory.org/charles-goodyear-and-the-vulcanization-of-rubber/

2. http://www.explainthatstuff.com/rubber.html

3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3933396/

4. http://science.jrank.org/pages/7266/Vulcanization.html

Image References

1. VulcanizedRubber - http://historythings.com/historical-inventions-that-were-created-completely-by-accident/

2. Pirelli F1 Tyres - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sn3AcqpXe7c

3. Charles Goodyear - http://www.biography.com/people/charles-goodyear-9315611#synopsis

4. Hevea Brasiliensishttps - ://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rubber_trees_in_Kerala,_India.jpg (Self published by M.arunprasad)

5. Polyisoprene and Sulfur - http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Vulcanization

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