Friday, May 14, 2021

NYT obituary of the inventor of the Post-It Note, Dr. Sheldon Silver

Via the New York Times, a delightful obituary of the chemist who invented the adhesive of Post-It Notes: 
Spencer Silver, a research chemist at 3M who inadvertently created the not-too-sticky adhesive that allows Post-it Notes to be removed from surfaces as easily as they adhere to them, died on Saturday at his home in St. Paul, Minn. He was 80.

His wife, Linda, said that he died after an episode of ventricular tachycardia, in which the heart beats faster than normal. Mr. Silver had a heart transplant 27 years ago. Dr. Silver worked in 3M’s central research laboratory developing adhesives. In 1968, he was trying to create one that was so strong it could be used in aircraft construction.

He failed in that goal. But during his experimentation, he invented something entirely different: an adhesive that stuck to surfaces, but that could be easily peeled off and was reusable. It was a solution to a problem that did not appear to exist, but Dr. Silver was certain it was a breakthrough...

...Dr. Silver did not choose engineering or astrophysics. Instead, he graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1962. He earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Colorado, Boulder, four years later. While there, he met Linda Martin, an undergraduate who was working part time in the chemistry department. They married in 1965.

He soon joined 3M as a senior chemist working on pressure-sensitive adhesives. During his 30 years at the company, he rose to the rank of corporate scientist. And while he worked on other projects involving branch block copolymers and immuno-diagnostics, none were part of popular successes like Post-it Notes...

Do read the whole thing, especially the wonderful bit about the 3M corporate golf course, as well as the connection to Lisa Kudrow.  

(what will be the modern version of a corporate golf course be? frisbee golf course? ax throwing room?) 

1 comment:

  1. "He patented the adhesive (technically called acrylate copolymer microspheres) in 1972. But two more years passed before someone at 3M paid serious attention to it: Art Fry, a chemical engineer in the tape division lab, who was looking to develop new products."

    Gives you a sense of how long it can take something to catch on once you've invented it even within a company. Then its years later that the product is developed. A saying I've heard a lot recently is that patents give commercial teams time to figure out how to sell the invention.


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