The Manufacture of Nylon

The account of this incident was written by Michael Hiam.

David Spence

For all those who recall the David Spence and Stan Guffog Chemistry era, here is one from Michael's 5th form (1971/2), with David Spence teaching.

We had O level chemistry in a double lesson but split over lunch for some reason. Before lunch as part of Organic Chemistry we were introduced to Nylon and its manufacture. David got us to make retort stands and line them up down the benches of the lab (the one facing the sports field) like pylons. He said Nylon was wonderful invention with many practical daily uses and we should be able to string this carefully down the back of the class as part of seeing its properties in action. With a small plastic beaker and some liquids, he proceeded to talk us through the steps and the reaction by reference to the backboard and equations.  Then came the proof.  After a short stir, out come the gelatinous nylon glob from its solution.  Gingerly, it was transferred by nominated pupils using glass rods from beaker to first retort.  Many times it broke, many times it was re-started, many of us tried but none successful to even the first retort.  With the dinner bell came relief to the ego's and a short "we'll do it again better after lunch", by David as we all trooped off thankful for no homework at least at that time.

After the lunch break, things got serious.  Still all sitting 'nervously' on stools at the first row bench (more not wishing to be picked than anything else), David produced the waste basket and went into scale-up manufacture mode.  In went prepared large beakers of raw materials and a slight swish about.  Then he produced an electric mixer and vigorously stirred the mix into the basket with a determine whirl.  He also timed it I recall. With bated breath from us, he placed the basket carefully on on his desk.  As the expected hush and silence gave way to tension, and after a quick abracadabra….in went a large glass stirrer and out came a bra!

The whole class and David himself fell about the place for minutes in hysterics.  As the laughter subsided a bit, he produced more and more nylon 'goods and objects' from the waste basket in short succession.  Fantastic !

He also used to give Fireworks shows on Nov 5th if you were lucky to have Chemistry on that day.  A Great guy.

Of course there were more chemistry stories which I am sure most of us experienced …including:

…..The reduction of iron ore with magnesium and magnesium flare in a safe location---whump! i.e. blowing up the athletics sand pit.

And…..some-one demonstrating the safe way of mixing water and concentrated sulphuric acid.  Instead of safely adding acid to water in actual fact, it did go the wrong way!. {Michael was not sure of the teacher for this one, but John Wellsted remembers it well, it was David!].  It was Funny at the time yet dangerous. ..And practised by all pupils thereafter pre register...  Did they ever get the stains removed off the ceiling off the Lab by the pond?. 

The Tower Revisited  - The website for former Pupils of the Technical High School, Trinity High School & Trinity Grammar School, Northampton