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Module 11: Plastics

To get started, download the complete, detailed faculty outline of Module 11 (PDF | Word). Additional links and downloadable resources for teaching the class are listed below.

Introduction

This module focuses on plastics, a ubiquitous material on the consumer market. Belonging to the class of materials known as polymers, plastics were the first materials synthesized from other materials/chemicals. Because of their range of properties including flexibility, their relatively low processing temperatures and their low cost polymers filled a critical need in the materials that have impacted society. During this module, students focus on the story of Tupperware products and American advertising history, considering how plastics can acquire social meanings that shape the ways we use and promote this material. In the postwar period, Earl Tupper brought a new kind of polyethylene product to the U.S. consumer market. Students will brainstorm strategies for marketing polymer-based bicycle helmets today, taking into account our global economy.

Module Objectives

Students will:

  • identify the properties of polymers
  • identify the properties of biopolymers
  • discover the uses and applications of polymers both historically and in the future
  • examine the way that individual and social perceptions shape the use of a material
  • discover how the properties of a material rely on the interests of their users

Lecture Development Resources
Day 1

Material science professor presents background on plastics. This lecture will discuss the class of materials we call polymers, including a review of their properties, how they were discovered and some of their history.

  1. Excerpt (pp.215-237) from Sass, Stephen L. (1998/2011) The Substance of Civilization. New York: Arcade Publishing.
  2. Lecture: Plastics Lecture (PPT)
  3. Sample Lecture Video: Plastics and Polymers (22:00) (Transcript)
  4. Demo Video: Stretching Polymers (1:17)
  5. Demo Video: Making Nylon (2:58)

Day 2

Guest professor presents Fantastic Plastics in Postwar America: Earl Tupper, Brownie Wise, and Materials Marketing.

  1. e-Textbook Chapter: Fantastic Plastics in Postwar America: Earl Tupper, Brownie Wise, and Materials Marketing (PDF) by Marsha Bryant
  2. Article: Fromson, Daniel (2011) “In the Shadow of Tupperware: Earl Tupper’s Other Innovations.” Atlantic, July 28, 2011
  3. Book: Clark, Alison J. (1999) Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America (Chapter 1). Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. (pp. 8-35)
  4. Article: Sivulka, Juliann Soap, Sex and Cigarettes: A Cultural History of American Advertising. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth (1998) 264-270, 275-286. Print.
  5. Lecture: Fantastic Plastic in Postwar America (PPT)
  6. Video: Vintage (1:19)
  7. Video: Contemporary (3:48)
  8. Website: Museum of Modern Art website, enter "Tupperware" in the Search box (bottom right corner), and explore.
  9. Assignment: Individual Homework Assignment (Word)
  10. Video: Polymers (11:31) (Transcript)
  11. Video: Sports: Helmet Design (11:28) by Nikhil Gupta
  12. Video: "Smart Saver" Advertisement from Tupperware India (2:51)

Day 3

Social and cultural systems such as language, gender, aesthetics, home design, and advertising shapes the ways we perceive the intrinsic physical properties of materials.

  1. In-Class Activity: Polymers (Word)
  2. Assignment: Impact Paradigm Individual Homework Assignment (Word)

Additional Resources

Online Course Module

  • View the online module in PDF or Word format.
  • Available soon: The full online course to upload to your Learning Management System. Contact Kevin Jones at kjones@eng.ufl.edu or Pamela Hupp at hupp@mrs.org for more information.

    Books and Articles  

    • Clark, Alison J. Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press (1999). Print.
    • Fromson, Daniel (2011) “In the Shadow of Tupperware: Earl Tupper’s Other Innovations.” Atlantic July 28 2011. Web.
    • Sivulka, Juliann. Soap, Sex and Cigarettes: A Cultural History of American Advertising. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth (1998) 264-270, 275-286. Print.

    Videos