US chemist who carried out research into polymerization. He discovered that some polymers were fiber-forming, and in 1931 he produced nylon and neoprene, one of the first synthetic rubbers.
Carothers was born in Burlington, Iowa, and studied at Illinois and Harvard. In 1928 he became head of organic chemistry research at the Du Pont research laboratory in Wilmington, Delaware. He committed suicide.
Much of Carothers's research effort was directed at producing a polymer that could be drawn out into a fiber. His first successful experiments involved polyesters, but for finer fibers with enough strength to emulate silk, he turned to polyamides. Nylon is a linear chain polymer which can be colddrawn after extrusion through spinnerets to orientate the molecules parallel to each other so that lateral hydrogen bonding takes place.
Carothers also worked on synthetic rubbers. Neoprene, first produced commercially 1932, is resistant to heat, light, and most solvents.