Thomas Midgley

Since UCAS is a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) school, it would only be fitting to talk about a notable scientist, and Thomas Midgley certainly is one. He introduced inventions to the world that helped humankind for a while, but eventually were found to be quite destructive.

He was born on May 18th of 1889 in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. He obtained a PhD in engineering from Cornell University.

He held over 100 patents for inventions throughout his lifetime.

In 1921, he found a way to stop “knocking” in car engines while he was working under Charles F. Kettering by putting TEL into ethyl, which is more commonly known as gasoline.

But…why is that even important?

Well, first of all, engine knock is annoying, and it sounds bad. More importantly: it can cause huge problems with your car by damaging the cylinder wall and piston. I’m not going to go into a lot more detail about it, but…it’s not good.   

Anyway: TEL is tetraethyl lead, which contains the toxic metal lead, so what could possibly go wrong?

Well…a lot.  

Exposure to it can cause acute or chronic lead poisoning, and in fact, that’s exactly what Thomas Midgley contracted after working with it for quite some time. He took some time off from chemistry for about a year, and continued his work.

In 1930, he invented Freon, a colorless and odorless gas that made safer refrigerators possible. He saved countless lives by using Freon instead of dangerous chemicals like sulfur dioxide (which harms the environment and the human respiratory system, making it hard especially for those with asthma), methyl chloride (which, if you are exposed to it for extended amounts of time, can kill you or cause unconsciousness), and ammonia (which can cause respiratory failure, and cause severe burns): all of which would be used instead of Freon in refrigerators in millions of homes.

Although he saved countless lives, Freon was eventually found to be destroying our ozone layer, so technically he also endangered people even though his creation did a lot of good.

In 1940, he acquired polio. Four years later, he got tangled in the complicated mechanism he created to help people get him out of his bed, therefore dying of strangulation

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