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双语阅读 化学家利奥贝克兰

来源:英语阅读 编辑:英语学习 时间:2016-11-11

Chemist Leo Baekeland

化学家利奥·贝克兰

双语阅读 化学家利奥贝克兰

[1] In the opening scene of The Graduate, Benjamin Braddock (played by a young Dustin Hoffman) is awkwardly working an affluent Southern California crowd at a graduation party arranged for him by his parents when a family friend offers one of the century's most famous pieces of cine-matic advice: "I just want to say one word to you. Just one word: plastics."

[2] Millions of moviegoers winced and smiled. The scene neatly captured their own late '60s ambivalence toward the ever more synthetic landscape of their times. They loved their cheap, easy- to-clean Formica countertops, but envied-and longed for-the authentic touch and time-lessness of marble and wood. The chord struck by that line in The Graduate under-scored how much had happened in the six decades since the summer of 1907, when Leo Baekeland made the laboratory break-through that would change the stuff our world is made of.

[3] A Belgian-horn chemist-entrepreneur, Baekeland had a knack for spotting profitable opportunities. He scored his first success in the 1890s with his invention of Velox, an improved photographic paper that freed photographers from having to use sunlight for developing images. With Velox, they could rely on artificial light, which at the time usually meant gaslight but soon came to mean electric. It was a far more dependable and convenient way to work. In 1899 George Eastman, whose cameras and developing services would make photogra-phy a household activity, bought full rights to Velox for the then astonishing sum of $ 1 million.

[4] With that windfall, Baekeland, his wife Celina(known as "Bonbon") and two children moved to Snug Rock, a pala-tial estate north of Yonkers, N.Y., over-looking the Hudson River. There, in a barn be converted into a lab, he began foraging for his next big hit. It wasn't long before the burgeoning electrical industry seemed to say just one word to him: insulators.

[5] The initial tease for Baekeland----"Doc Baekeland" to many-was the rising cost of shellac. For centuries, the resinous secretions that Laccifer lacca beetles de-posited on trees had provided a cottage in-dustry in southern Asia, where peasants heated and filtered it to produce a varnish for coating and preserving wood products. Shellac also happened to be an effective electrical insulator. Early electrical workers used it as a coating to insulate coils, and molded it into stand-alone insulators by pressing together layers of shellac-impreg-nated paper.

[6] When electrification began in earnest in the first years of the century, de-mand for shellac soon outstripped supply. Baekeland recognized a killer ap when he saw one. If only he could come up with a synthetic substitute for shellac.

[7] Others nearly beat him to it. As early as 1872, German chemist Adolf Von Baeyer was investigating the recalcitrant residue that gathered in the bottom of glass-ware that had been host to reactions be-tween phenol (a turpentine-like solvent dis-tilled from coal tar, which the gas-lighting industry produced in bulk) and formalde-hyde (an embalming fluid distilled from wood alcohol). Von Baeyer set his sights on new synthetic dyes, however, not insulators. To him, the ugly, insoluble gunk in his glassware was a sign of a dead end.

[8] To Baekeland and others aiming to find commercial opportunities in the nascent electrical industry, that gunk was a signpost pointing toward something GREat. The chal-lenge for Baekeland and his rivals was to find some set of conditions----some slippery ratio of inGREdients and heat and pressure that would yield a more workable, shellac-like substance. Ideally it would be some-thing that would dissolve in solvents to make insulating varnishes and yet be as moldable as rubber.

[1]在电影(毕业生》的片头场景中,本杰明·布拉多克(由年轻的达斯廷·霍夫曼扮演)在父母为他安排的毕业晚会上,很不习惯地周旋在一群富裕的南加州人中,此时,一位友人说出了本世纪最著名的一条电影对白:“我只想跟你们说一个词,就一个词:塑料。”

[2]无数的电影观众先是感到震惊,然后报以微笑。这个场景巧妙地抓住了他们对6o年代末这个时代更多人造景观的矛盾心理。他们喜欢厨房里便宜的易擦洗的福米卡塑料工作台面,但羡慕----甚至渴望得到----大理石和木头的真实触感和永恒感。(毕业生)里的那句话唤起的记忆着重体现了自1907年夏天以来60年中事物的巨大变迁。就在1907年,利奥·贝克兰在实验室里取得了突破,改变了组成世界的物质。

[3]贝克兰是一名出生在比利时的化学家及企业家,善于捕捉有利的机遇。19世纪90年代他因发明了Velox而首获成功。Velox是一种改进了的照相纸,摄影师不必采用阳光也能使它产生图像。有了Velox,摄影师们可以依赖人造光,如当时通常用的煤气灯,以及不久后出现的电灯。这是一个更具可靠性、更便捷的工作方法。1899年,乔治·伊斯门以当时令人吃惊的100万美元买下了Velox的全部使用权,他的照相机和冲洗服务后来使照像成了一项家喻户晓的娱乐。

[4]有了这笔意外之财,贝克兰及其妻子塞丽娜(也称“夹心软糖”)和他们的两个孩子移居到了Snug Rock,那是位于纽约州扬克斯北部的一处可以俯瞰哈得孙河的豪华别墅。在那儿,在一间谷仓改建的实验室里,他开始为他下一个惊世之作搜寻资料。不久,发展中的电力工业似乎在向他展示一个词:绝缘物。

[5]贝克兰----许多人称之为“贝克兰博士”——首先难以处理的事是紫胶价格的上涨。几个世纪以来,紫胶虫积存在树上的树脂状分泌物为南亚的家庭小工业提供了原料,该地区农民把树脂分泌物加热过滤,生产一 种用作涂料和保护木制品的清漆。紫胶恰巧还是一种有效的绝缘物。早期的电力工人将它用作涂料,隔离缠绕在一起的线圈,还将注满了紫胶的纸一层层地压紧制成单独的绝缘物。

[6]当电气化在本世纪初真正开始发展时,紫胶很快就变得供不应求。贝克兰独具慧眼,他迫切希望找到紫胶的合成替代物。

[7]他的研究几乎被别人超越。早在1872年,德国化学家阿道夫·冯·拜耳就在研究主要由酚(从煤气照明工业大批量产出的煤渣中提炼的类似松节油样的溶剂)和甲醛(从本醇中提炼的防腐液体)之间的反应所产生聚集在玻璃器皿底部的棘手的残渣。然而冯·拜耳将目光放在了新的合成涂料上,而非绝缘体上。在他看来,玻璃器皿中这种令人讨厌的不易溶解的黏东西毫无研究价值可言。

[8]但贝克兰和其他在刚起步的电力工业中寻求商机的人认为,这个黏糊糊的东西将导致某种伟大的发现。贝克兰和他的对手面临的共同挑战就是要找到某组条件——某种难以掌握的成份比率及热量和压力——能生产出更有效的类似紫胶的东西。最理想的是它能在溶剂里溶解成为绝缘漆,但又能像橡胶那样具有可塑性。

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