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Award for Scientist Behind Super-Strong Carbon Fibres

22 April 2004

Later this month (April), one of the pioneers of carbon fibre technology, Roger Bacon, will accept the International Benjamin Franklin Medal in Mechanical Engineering at the Franklin Institute Science Museum.

Bacon first experimented with graphite some four decades ago. There in Ohio, Bacon subjected graphite to high heat and pressure, discovering stronger-than-steel microscopic ""whiskers."" He eventually discovered a process for making continuous threads of carbon fibre, a high-strength material with numerous commercial, industrial and military applications. Bacon documented all of the properties and published his results in the Journal of Applied Physics in 1960.

""If you turn a good scientist loose, he'll come up with something useful, once in a while,"" said Bacon ""I don't like it to sound like I did it all myself - there were so many people who helped.""

Bacon holds several patents for the process, but the company owns them and retains subsequent profits. Until now, Bacon's name was recognized only in the most elite scientific circles.

The U.S. military began using Bacon's discoveries in the 1960s. Soon, reinforced rocket nozzles, heat shields for ballistic missiles, space shuttle wings and aircraft brakes contained carbon fibres, which dissipate heat.

""Every single aircraft that flies today uses carbon fibre, and Roger's invention enabled that to happen,"" said Brian Sullivan, a Villanova University adjunct professor specializing in carbon fibres who nominated Bacon.

Awards in seven science fields are announced yearly in the international competition. Many recipients have gone on to win Nobel Prizes.