11 Oct 2013
Charterhouse's chemistry department was honoured to welcome Prof Howard Colquhoun on 3 October 2013 for our first lecture of the school year. Having completed a Masters and PhD at Cambridge and London universities respectively, Prof Colquhoun carried out research at ICI Corporate Laboratory in Cheshire. He is now the Chair of Materials Chemistry at the University of Reading; his specialty: Materials Chemistry.
He began his lecture by bringing our attention to the prevalence of polymers - in our clothes, our furniture, our cars. Primarily, his focus was on the chemistry of carbon, for example the first commercial plane 60 years ago was made entirely of aluminium whereas the Boeing 787 released two years ago is 50% carbon composite. This is an improvement as the plane has far better performance with carbon for less weight (carbon is less dense than aluminium) but the problem is making carbon compounds strong, durable and with a high melting point.
He concentrated on the synthesis of polymers for industry, starting with the discovery of polyethene in 1933 by Gibson and Fawcett, and following the discovery of other fibres eg nylon (Carrothers), polystyrene (Whinfield) and Kevlar (Kwolek) in the 1940s and 50s which have higher tensile strength and melting points than polyethene, which melts around 100°C.
Finally, he concluded the talk with a preview of the continuous production of carbon nanotubes that are currently on-going in Cambridge which are even stronger than any previous carbon-based material. It was a most informative and fascinating lecture, especially for those amongst us who are industrially inclined.