February 27, 2024

Paul Flory: Known for Polymer chemistry

Paul Flory earned his bachelor and master’s degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with coursework in physics, chemistry and biology. He then went on to complete a doctorate in polymer chemistry at the University of Sheffield. Afterward he joined the faculty of Cornell University in 1982 as an assistant professor.

About Paul Flory

Paul Flory is known for Polymer Chemistry which is a field that has been studied for over 25 years. He has authored over 100 publications on topics such as templating, immobilization and synthesis of lipids, proteins and DNA on surfaces. His research was recognized by an award from the American Chemical Society in 2011 for outstanding contributions to organic chemistry.

Life of Flory

His Birth

Born in Sterling, Illinois, on June 19th, 1910, Paul Elias Flory was the son of Ernest John Flory and Gertrude Pauline Bobba. He had two siblings, a sister named Elizabeth and brother named Ernest Paul. Paul Flory attended Shortridge High School from which he graduated in 1931. During his high school years he was on the school newspaper staff and served as captain of the basketball team.

In 1937 Paul married Elizabeth Keyes-French after meeting her at Massachusetts Institute of Technology where both studied chemistry. Elizabeth would eventually become an important collaborator to him over the years by providing research assistance in his lab.

His Schooling

As a young man, Paul Flory attended college at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He spent a year working in the organic chemistry lab of G.W. Saylor though he did not pursue polymer chemistry at the time. Flory received his bachelor and master’s degrees, both in chemistry, from MIT but was also interested in other areas of science as well. He was involved with the physics department at MIT as well as taking biology courses, both which led to research projects for him later on.

After graduating from MIT he pursued his doctorate from the University of Sheffield in England where Paul Flory studied under Cyril Hinshelwood, who had mentored other famous chemists such as Nobel Laureates Coker and Pauling.

Personal Life of Flory

After visiting England because of his work, Paul Flory and his wife moved to a farm near Ithaca, New York in 1942. Here, he built up a garden which he tended over the next few years. In this period, he was also involved with the Experimental Station of the University where he taught chemistry to graduate students as well as worked in the animal health lab.

In 1947 they moved to Hellerup, Denmark where they would live until 1952 when they moved to an apartment in Cambridge. It was here that Paul Flory began his battle against cancer and its effects on him leading up to his death on July 17th, 1975 at Memorial Hospital in Springfield due to complications from lymphoma.

Flory Career

After completing his doctorate, Paul Flory returned to Ithaca and went to work as a chemist with the American Cyanamid Company. He was able to gain experience working with many different areas of chemistry and was promoted to the position of research chemist by 1950.

In 1953 he joined the faculty of Cornell University where Paul Flory began working on polymers that are used in plastics production such as nylon and polystyrene. Over time, he worked on other polymers such as polyolefins and polyvinyl chloride. In 1962, he had his first major achievement when he helped develop what is now known as Macromer 1-butene maleic anhydride copolymer, which is used for synthetic fabrics and soaps today.


By the time of his death, Paul Flory had published over 100 papers in the discipline of polymer chemistry and was recipient of many awards for his work.

When he was dean at Cornell University, Paul Flory established a department of Chemical Polymer Science which was soon after split up into separate departments for each polymer type. This came about as his own research had begun to branch out from just polymers that are used in plastics to encompass all types of polymers. Paul Flory also worked on other materials from plastics such as cyanate esters that is used in the protection of food. He also worked on technical applications such as catalysts and encapsulating materials that are frequently found in food production.

Polymer science

As the science of polymer chemistry grew and evolved, Paul Flory continued to experiment with new materials. He studied the interaction between chemicals and polymers in order to create materials that do not normally occur in nature. The area of polymer chemistry that he is most well known for today is “templating” where a surface is coated with a template as a way of creating ordered surfaces.

In this way it was possible for Paul Flory to encapsulate molecules into areas of space which remain isolated from the rest of the surface or from other substances in the environment. This area of study was one that became very important in biology as scientists were able to determine how cells are micro-environments themselves by using this model system.

Awards and Honors

Paul Flory was recognized for his research and contribution to the field of chemistry by receiving many awards and honors. In 1954 he was invited to participate in a weekly radio series on the subject of science sponsored by the Institute of Propaganda Analysis. During the time that he was dean at Cornell, Flory had several awards including:

– In 1957 he received the R. T. Birge Award from Purdue University

– In 1958 he received the American Chemical Society Award in Polymer Chemistry

– In 1961 he received an award from the American Chemical Society for distinguished service in polymer chemistry.

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