Interview with Wesley Memeger, Jr., 2014 August 19

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  • Early life and education
    Partial Transcript: "I was born in St. Augustine Florida and I grew up there... I went off to Atlanta to Clark College..." "I was the only student in my chemistry class..."
    Synopsis: Memeger discusses his early life and education. He says that he is a native of St. Augustine Florida and studied chemistry at Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia. He recalls one chemistry course when he was a senior where he was the only student. He then talks about his graduate education in physical and organic Chemistry at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. He says that after completing his doctorate he joined the Pioneering Research department at DuPont in Wilmington, Delaware. He briefly talks about the team he met at DuPont and some of their academic works, projects, and inventions.
    Keywords: Adelphi University; Atlanta, Georgia; chemistry; Clark College; DuPont; Garden City, New York; Kevlar; Nomex; St. Augustine, Florida; Wilmington, Delaware
  • Choosing to work at DuPont and first days at DuPont
    Partial Transcript: "When I was in graduate school, I was being taught to become a university professor and I was on a teaching fellowship..." "I did teach quite a few courses in mid level chemistry..."
    Synopsis: Memeger talks about developing a non-academic career. He says that, while he enjoyed teaching, his interview at DuPont and seeing the research being done there interested him more than working in academia. He discusses his first job at DuPont working on developing high temperature polymers for the United States Air Force. He says that first project led to his first patent and his first publication.
    Keywords: Adelphi University; DuPont; fibers; polymers; United States Air Force
  • Explanation of polymer work
    Partial Transcript: "...what you have to do is play some tricks in order to process them..."
    Synopsis: Memeger explains his work on his first polymer project.
    Keywords: chemistry; innovation; invention; polymers; polyparaphenylene; processes
  • Joining the Kevlar team
    Partial Transcript: "I interviewed DuPont in 1964... I did not have any notion about what had gone on that same year.. in spring of that year Kwolek made her seminal discovery..." "...it was likely that the economics would not be good enough to commercialize that material..."
    Synopsis: Memeger talks about the circumstances of Kevlar's discovery and his joining the Kevlar team. He says that when he joined the team Kevlar was uneconomical to make due to the expense of materials. His manager asked him to join the team. He describes how he discovered a lower cost way to create some of the fibers necessary for Kevlar. He credits Paul Morgan as a driving force in the creation of Kevlar.
    Keywords: Kevlar; organic chemistry; Paul Morgan; Stephanie Kwolek
  • Thoughts on Paul Morgan and working on the Kevlar project
    Partial Transcript: "It's an interesting thing... he was one individual I had never worked directly under... I kind of regret it...
    Synopsis: Memeger discusses the impact of Paul Morgan, a colleague at DuPont, on the work that he and others did at the company. He describes him and explains how his work group wound up in competition with his. Memeger explains how he got involved in what would become Kevlar. He discusses some of his experiments and the chemicals and polymers that went into creating Kevlar. He explains how he discovered that using a chemical called HMPA as the only solvent in the Kevlar manufacturing process allowed for a faster polymerization process and created a heavier fiber.
    Keywords: chemicals; DuPont; HMPA; Kevlar; laboratory work; NMP; Paul Morgan; polymers
  • HMPA discovered as a carcinogen and redeveloping the solvents for Kevlar
    Partial Transcript: "That's right, there were some results... indicating the material was carcinogenic..." "We tended to stay away from chlorides because they are corrosive..."
    Synopsis: Memeger talks about some of the drawbacks of HMPA. He says that the material proved to be carcinogenic in mice and rats. He describes the experiment that resulted in the lab animals developing cancer after HMPA was released as a gas into the air. He says that they switched back to NMP and added calcium chloride which worked similarly to HMPA
    Keywords: Calcium Chloride; carcinogens; Haskell Laboratory; HMPA; mice; NMP; rats; solvents
  • Oxo sues DuPont and returning to study HMPA
    Partial Transcript: "There was a problem and that is the Oxo Corporation claimed to have found that system was workable for preparing Kevlar like fibers... so there was this big lawsuit..."
    Synopsis: Memeger talks about when the Oxo Corporation sued DuPont for their use of NMP and calcium chloride in the fabrication of Kevlar. He says DuPont won the case. Memeger then discusses returning to research HMPA after his retirement from DuPont. He says that he wanted to discover precisely why it worked as well as it did. He says that he wrote a paper about it, but its publication was blocked by DuPont because the company did not want it made public that they had worked with toxic materials and Kevlar.
    Keywords: Calcium Chloride; DuPont; HMPA; law suits; NMP; Oxo Corporation; papers; research; solvents; The Journal of Macromolecules
  • More about the HMPA incident
    Partial Transcript: "I think that there were recommendations that there be a follow up... but I think it was allowed to stand."
    Synopsis: Memeger talks about the HMPA incident again. He says that the lab suggested they take another look at the carcinogenic qualities of HMPA, but it never happened. He suggests that HMPA may have been a victim of politics because DuPont wanted to look environmentally conscious. He says that as far as he knows, no people have gotten sick from working with HMPA.
    Keywords: environmentalism; Haskell Laboratory; HMPA
  • Sulfuric acid in Kevlar production
    Partial Transcript: "One hundred percent sulfuric acid, sounds awful, doesn't it?"
    Synopsis: Memeger talks about using sulfuric acid in the production of Kevlar fiber. He says that another interviewee, Herbert Blades, knows more about it than he does.
    Keywords: Herbert Blades; Kevlar; solvents; sulfuric acid
  • Later career at DuPont
    Partial Transcript: "I stayed in Pioneering for another fifteen years and worked on all kinds of things..."
    Synopsis: Memeger talks about his career after working on Kevlar. He says that he stayed in the Pioneer Research lab for another fifteen years. He talks about creating another material that was similar to Kevlar. He says that the material was not as good as Kevlar, but he believes if they didn't already have Kevlar, they would have used it. He talks about creating other materials similar to Kevlar and creating polyesters. Memeger says that he believes a lot of the developments at the research labs fell to the wayside due to Kevlar.
    Keywords: Central Research; Dacron; DuPont; fibers; Kevlar; Pioneer Research; Polyesters; polymers
  • Choosing to produce Kevlar
    Partial Transcript: "... I think the answer is probably yes... Kevlar is tough to beat out, it really is..." "The thing about Kevlar... is the elegance, it is so simple... when you look at the molecule, it is beautiful..."
    Synopsis: Memeger talks about why DuPont chose to run with Kevlar. He thinks it is because Kevlar is hard to beat as a material and because of it's elegance. He describes Kevlar molecules as being simple and elegant, "beautiful" in terms of its simplicity and function. He compares Kevlar's structure to Nomex's structure, he says that compared to Kevlar's one ring, Nomex has several.
    Keywords: beauty; costs; elegance; Kevlar; molecular structures; Nomex; nylon; polyester
  • Transfering to Central Research and creating Kevlar foam and wood like Kevlar
    Partial Transcript: "I had made a discovery.." "What we found in one case was that as the polymerization was completing, the polymer set up to form a foamy cake like material in the shape of a vessel, the reactor." "We had discovered Kevlar foam."
    Synopsis: Memeger talks about transferring to DuPont's Central Research division. He talks about discovering a Kevlar like foam by slightly changing Kevlar's manufacturing process. He then talks about how it was used to make Kevlar fiber reinforced by Kevlar foam. He describes the materials as being similar to wood, but considerably stronger and flame resistant. He says that there are no current plans for this material.
    Keywords: Central Research; foam; Kevlar; solubility
  • Work at Central Research
    Partial Transcript: "Well, the thing that is so unique about carbon fiber is the carbon itself... instead of having Kevlar fiber in this... you would reinforce it with carbon fiber, it would be a superb material, no doubt." "Once I got into Central Research one of my goals was studying new reactions, that would form nylons.
    Synopsis: Memeger answers some more questions about his Kevlar material. He talks about his job in Central Research developing new types of nylons and new chemical reactions.
    Keywords: Kevlar; Nylon; research; wood
  • Work and publications at DuPont's Central Research lab
    Partial Transcript: "Their environment is very seductive.. basically, their environment allows you to do all sorts of wonderful chemistry... one doesn't have to worry about applications... it's just academically interesting..."
    Synopsis: Memeger talks about working at the Central Research Lab. He says it was a seductive environment for someone interested in academic research but perhaps less so for someone who wanted to help DuPont make money. He talks about the role of Howard Simmons in protecting the interest of the Central Research lab from DuPont's executive leadership.
    Keywords: Central Research; DuPont; Howard Simmons
  • Making the decision to retire
    Partial Transcript: "I was only fifty eight, it was thirty two years I had spent, and I wanted a change..." "I felt that I wanted to take some time.. and I have, I have been making art seriously now for about twenty years..."
    Synopsis: Memeger talks about retiring from DuPont and starting a second career as an artist. He talks about painting a piece for the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in the State of Delaware.
    Keywords: art; Dudley Spencer; Frank Lloyd Wright; retirement; Wilmington, Delaware
  • Getting hired at DuPont
    Partial Transcript: "I wanted to tell you a little bit about Gene Magat, he was the, he was the guy who decided to hire me."
    Synopsis: Memeger talks about getting hired by DuPont. He says that a manager named Gene Magat, who was concerned that Memeger did not talk very much. Memeger's adviser at school said he should hire him anyway. Memeger tells a story about a friend who did not like working in Northern Ireland, so Magat found him a job in America and helped Memeger's friend advance his career.
    Keywords: DuPont; Eugene McGaugh; management; Pioneer Research lab
  • Reading a letter from Eugene Magat and discussing his history of Kevlar
    Partial Transcript: "This year marks the twenty fifth anniversary of the commercial availability of Kevlar..." "There are just so many.. kind of small contributions that people made in this book..." "Gene wanted to publish this..."
    Synopsis: Memeger reads a letter from Eugene Magat to him and talks about a history that Magat wrote about Kevlar. He relates that Magat was unable to publish the manuscript, but that he wrote a short version for the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Memeger says that the record generated for the Chemical Heritage Foundation leaves out a lot of important, yet very small details. He talks about the memory of Kevlar and some others who have written histories of Kevlar.
    Keywords: Chemical Heritage Foundation; Eugene Magat; Kevlar; liquid crystals
  • Feelings on contributing to Kevlar
    Partial Transcript: "I came in 1964, to interview, and joined the laboratory about, not quite a year after the seminal discovery of Kwolek..." "I think I know the Kevlar story and I think I've lived it."
    Synopsis: Memeger talks about his feelings on the Kevlar story and his personal involvement in the project.
    Keywords: development; emotions; Kevlar; research; Stephanie Kwolek