Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Andrei The man who did more to damage the environment than anybody before or since

Do you know how the man on the right was?

No? He is not a household name. But according to environmental historian J.R. McNeil he had a greater impact on the environment than any other single organism in world history, he means this in a bad way.

The man's name is Thomas Midgley, Jr and he was one of the most celebrated Chemists of the early 20th century, winning many prizes and awards for his work.

It was Thomas Midgley, Jr working for General Motors in 1921 who discovered the addition of Tetra-ethyl lead to petrol prevent engine knocking, a great advance which improved engine performance and wear. American Chemical Society awarded Midgley the 1923 Nichols Medal for this.

And of course until comparatively recently lead was added to petrol and most cars required it. Of course this added lead to the environment (bad) and we have moved on from this.

In the late 1920s Thomas Midgley, Jr turned his attention to refrigerants. At that time some fairly nasty chemicals such as ammonia, sulphur dioxide, or propane were used. These are highly toxic or explosive and were therefore precluded for home refrigeration.

The Frigidaire division of General Motors sought an non toxic, non explosive alternative for these gases and put our man Thomas Midgley, Jr on the case.

And brilliant chemist that he was he soon found a solution, he would combine a halogen with a hydrocarbon creating an inert gas with the required properties. And soon had synthesized Dichlorofluoromethane, which he called Freon. The Society of Chemical Industry awarded Midgley the Perkin Medal in 1937 for this work.

And with Freon home refrigeration and air conditioning took off.

In the seventies of course it was determined that Freon and its relations were supposedly wrecking the ozone layer and they have been phased out.

Thomas Midgley, Jr received many high awards for his work in Chemistry for his contributions were substantial
It is fortunate Thomas Midgley, Jr did not live to see his contributions to mankind demonised and become to be considered planet wreckers.

In 1940 he contracted poliomyelitis, which left him severely disabled. This led him to devise an elaborate system of strings and pulleys to help others lift him from bed. This system was the eventual cause of his death when he was accidentally entangled in the ropes of this device and died of strangulation at the age of 55. A sad end for a great man.

3 comment(s):

Lucia Maria said...

Oh dear!

ZenTiger said...

Funnily enough, I created a post back in January called the "The Midgley Awards" for the worst ideas in the world.

I've had some good candidates every month, but not enough time to blog them.

Andrei said...

Well despite all, Zen - his ideas weren't bad. They worked - civilization advanced and peoples life expectancy rose.

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