Teflon (Molecule of the Month for March 2005)
Teflon is polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE. The molecular structure of Teflon is based on a chain of carbon atoms, the same as all polymers. Unlike some other fluoropolymers, in Teflon this chain is completely surrounded by fluorine atoms. The bond between carbon and fluorine is very strong, and the fluorine atoms shield the vulnerable carbon chain. This unusual structure gives Teflon its unique properties. In addition to its extreme slipperiness, it is inert to almost every known chemical.
PTFE is sometimes said to be a spin-off from the US space program with more down-to-earth applications; this is an urban legend, as teflon cooking pans were commonplace before Yuri Gagarin's flight in 1961. PTFE was discovered serendipitously by Roy Plunkett of DuPont in 1938, while attempting to make a new CFC refrigerant, when the perfluorethylene polymerized in its storage container. DuPont patented it in 1941, and registered the Teflon trademark in 1944.
Teflon has been supplemented with another DuPont product, Silverstone, a three-coat fluoropolymer system that produces a more durable finish than Teflon. Silverstone was released in 1976.
Update by Karl Harrison
(Molecule of the Month for March 2005 )