Isoprene is the molecule that makes items like tires, rubber duckies and water proof soles for our shoes possible. The discovery of this molecule was made in the South American jungles by tribes of Amazonian peoples who originally used inflated animal bladders because of their natural elasticity. Artifacts have been discovered in Veracruz, Mexico that date back to somewhere between 1200 and 1600 B.C.. Christopher Columbus, on one of his voyages, saw Indians in the Caribbean playing with heavy balls comprised of plant gum that bounced really high. French explorer Charles-Marie de La Condamine brought back balls of coagulated gum from one of his excursions, which ended up being later determined as latex.
Michael Faraday is credited with the discovery of the chemical formula of rubber: it is believed to be C5H8. It is the smallest polymer in nature, and it has only 5 Carbon atoms. Natural rubber is formed when isoprene molecules add and attach to one another from end to end. This is known as a cis bond. Their doubles bonds is that produces rigidity in rubber. Another form of this polymer is known as the trans bond,. The differences between these two lies within the location of their Hydrogen atoms and the two CH3 groups. On the Cis bonds, they are on the same side of the double bond. On the trans, they are on different sides of the double bond. The cis is essential for elasticity, and this is because of the different structure of the polymer. The long flexible chains of the all-cis configuration of the natural rubber molecule are not close enough together to produce strong bonds between the chains, and the molecules of the chains can slip past one another when the substance is under tension. Contrast this with the organized and structured zigzag-shaped polymers of the all-trans configuration. They fit closely together, which allows for the formations of bonds which makes stretching it impossible.
Rubber got it’s start in the world of waterproof fashion from a man in Great Britain named Charles Macintosh. He experimented by using naphtha (a waste product from the local gas plants) as a solvent to convert rubber into a pliable coating for fabric, making them waterproof. This served as the basis for our usage of rubber in engines, hoses, overshoes, hats and costs. After this occurred, a nationwide obsession with rubber swept the United States in the 1830s. This lasted until they actually decided to wear them outside. In the winter, the garments became hard and brittle like. In the summer, the became melted-gluey messes that smelt terrible. A man with a possible solution to the problem was an American named Charles Goodyear. He believed he could reduce rubber’s stickiness during summer by mixing a dry powder with it that would absorb the excess moisture. After several failed attempts, he finally found success in 1839 after accidentally dropping sulfur treated rubber on a stovetop. The reaction he observed pushed him to find the right ratios between sulfur and rubber, resulting in a rubber that was tough and durable through all weather conditions. This process was named vulcanization, and by adding sulfur to the rubber, it allowed for binds to be formed between the sulfur which made molecules act in a way that was still flexible, yet did not slide past one another.
Rubber’s vast and diverse possibilities as a tool for creation led to tension on the world stage. Natural rubber, pre-synthesis days, only came from trees found in the Amazon, and collection of rubber was a strenuous task, often requiring a lot of time and work. And Englishmen named Henry Alexander Wickham, seeing the possible fortune that could be made off rubber trees, traveled to South America and returned with seventy thousand seeds of the rubber tree. The seeds were studied and observed and then transported to rubber plantations in Asia; one plantation was in Malaysia. This was the beginning stages of the rubber dynasty.
The United States during the period of World War II was heavily dependent on rubber to fuel our industrialization process and growing transportation needs. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stated his concerns about the possibility of a rubber shortage by setting up and ad hoc committee to solve this problem. The committee stated that, “if we fail to secure quickly a large rubber supply, our war effort and our domestic economy both will fail.” The race to find another solution was on. The only problem with synthesizing rubber was its double cis bonds because in natural rubber, enzymes control the cis production. However, synthetic does not have the ability to control the process. The first to attempt synthesizing were the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey and IG Farben. They succeeded and after production began, the output numbers were astounding, revolutionizing industries across the board, Their process was then refined by two scientists, Ziegler and Natta. They created a catalysts at allowed for the control of cis or trans production in the polymer. This allowed rubbers to be built more flexibly, with a higher durability and greater resistance to cracking.
Our modern world is practically shaped by rubber. The collecting of it in the Amazon river basin has had an impact on the environment. We are now able to correct our errors on paper, thanks to erasers. Farmers in South America owning rubber plantations lived lavishly, as did those rubber barons in Southeast Asia. Tires for our cars would not be possible, changing the world of transportation as we know it. The authors make these arguments, and I completely agree with them. They argue that the effects of rubber far extended beyond what people has probably intended for them to. They also relate the explosion of NASA’s Challenger to rubber by stating how one tiny, minute error can end up taking the lives of seven people. The author did a very good job of including the whole train of thought when it comes to Isoprene’s causes and effects.

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