Today’s episode shows us how an experimental failure in chemistry research can turn itself into a success and become part of our daily life.
They are all over the place, stuck on doors, computers, refrigerators and even on people. No longer just yellow little squares of paper, they now come in many forms and colours: they are Post-its, the pieces of paper that stick and unstick.
Their story begins in 1968 with a chemical company which encouraged its employees to use 15% of their working time to test innovative ideas. One of the employees, a chemist who worked with polymers, tried to produce a stronger adhesive than the existing ones by changing the proportions of the reagents in an adhesive mixture.
What he got was a new polymer adhesive that arranges itself into small spheres on a surface – rather than covering it evenly – and that was far from being strong glue: it would stick, but unstick just as easily! Over and over again!
It was interesting; it was different… and completely useless. Who would want to glue a mug handle with glue that does not stick?
The failed glue didn’t really have a useful application for years, until someone suggested using it to stick bookmarks. But success was not immediate, because nobody was willing to pay for a canary-yellow pile of papers of doubtful usefulness. The company then decided to distribute the product free door-to-door in the U.S. city of Richmond for a year. Next year there were already addicted consumers… like me (and I bet) you!
Nowadays, they are one of the most sold office supplies in the world. A chemical failure that made your day to day life easier!
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