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Chemist Malcolm Renfrew passes away

Chemist Malcolm Renfrew passes away

THE death has taken place of the chemist Malcolm Renfrew who played a key role in developing the commercial uses of Teflon. He passed away on the day of his 103rd. birthday.

Dr. Renfrew did not invent the chemical compound which was discovered inadvertently by fellow DuPont chemist Roy J. Plunkett during research into non-toxic refrigerants. However, in the early 1940s, Dr. Renfrew and his team were given the job of figuring out what to do with the compound which was only later trademarked as Teflon.

While he was trying to find ways of commercially exploiting the invention, it was the U.S. government that used it for the first time outside of the laboratory. A request was made for quantities of the compound for use in a top secret project. It was only years later that it was discovered that the project was the development of the atomic bomb. The Teflon had been used to coat pipes and valves during the process of enriching uranium 235.

It was not until 1946 that the existence of Teflon was made public during a speech by Dr. Renfrew to the American Chemical Society. While he was involved in developing uses for the compound in a number of areas, including dental repairs, Dr. Renfrew was not involved in putting Teflon to its most famous use — on non-stick pans. That did not happen until the early 1960s, by which time he was teaching at the University of Idaho.

By the time of his retirement in 1976, Dr. Renfrew was head of the physical science and chemistry departments. 

Over the years he received a number of honours, including being named 2010 American Chemical Society Fellow.

Dr. Renfrew passed away at his home in Moscow, Idaho. His wife Carol predeceased him in 2010.

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