Julius Nieuwland the inventor of synthetic rubber

The type of synthetic rubber you sometimes see in mouse pads, laptop covers, wetsuits, camera cases masks and many other materials was in fact a Belgian invention. The creation of neoprene, that is what the synthetic rubber is called, was influenced by Belgian chemist and priest Reverent Julius Nieuwland and his research on acetylene chemistry. Nieuwland was born of Flemish parents in Hansbeke, Belgium and immigrated as a young boy with his family to South Bend, Indiana. Later he taught botany for a number of years at the Notre Dame university. In 1918 he became a professor of organic chemistry.


In 1920, Nieuwland produced a type of jelly that formed into an elastic compound similar to natural rubber. Neoprene has been considered superior to rubber in terms of its resistance to sunlight, abrasion, and temperature changes. 

Nieuwland mentioned his revolutionary finding during a lecture in New York, attended by a scientist from the American chemical company DuPont, 'Wallace Carothers' The DuPont scientists, with the priest’s help, create the modern-day neoprene rubber which is used in a wide range of materials today.