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The Discovery of Superglue

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In 1959 a research chemist at the Eastman Kodak company was given the job of preparing some new acrylic compounds and measuring their properties, including their refractive indices.

(The refractive index is the ratio of the speed of light in a vacuum to the speed of light in a particular material; the difference in refractive indices between two materials determines how much a ray of light is bent when it passes from one to the other.)

One standard method of measuring refractive index involves putting the liquid to be tested between two glass prisms.

One of the new compounds Eastman Kodak was investigating was ethyl cyanoacrylate (see figure).

The chemist smeared this on the glass prisms of his Abbe refractometer and closed them together, standard procedure for measuring refractive index. When he tried to open them again he found he had discovered superglue!

The structure of ethyl cyanoacrylate, better known as super glue.

(This anecdote contributed by John Hirst of Nuplex Resins Australia)