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February 14th is the birthday of Julius Nieuwland. Nieuland was a Belgian priest and chemist who's research into the chemistry of acetylene directly led to the first commercially successful artificial rubber, polychloroprene. This is better known by DuPont's trademark, neoprene.

Nieuwland discovered he could polymerize acetylene into a rubber-like jelly of divinyl acetylene. The story might have ended there except Elmer Bolton of DuPont attended a lecture of Nieuwland's. Many industries were looking for an alternative source of rubber. Rubber is a natural product produced from latex of the para rubber tree. The majority of the world's rubber came from plantations in the Amazonian rainforest. Chemical engineers around the world were trying to discover a useful synthetic alternative. Bolton acquired the rights to further develop Nieuwland's discovery for DuPont. Scientists at DuPont collaborated with Nieuwland to produce neoprene.

Nieuland is also known for his discovery of the chemical weapon lewisite. He discovered the reaction during his acetylene research, but abandoned further research because of it's poisonous nature. When his research was weaponized to produce lewisite, he nearly gave up chemical research entirely. Find out what else occurred on this day in science history.

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