What Are Some Facts About Styrofoam?


Quick Answer

Styrofoam is a word used in North America to describe expanded polystyrene foam that manufacturers use to make disposable cups, packaging material and insulating containers. It is also a brand name of an extruded material, different from the material in Styrofoam cups, that manufacturers use to make thermal insulation and craft materials.

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Carl Georg Munters was the first person to discover and patent a method for making polystyrene foam, a moisture-resistant, closed cell extruded material. In 1941, the Dow Chemical Physics Lab developed methods to mass-produce the material and acquired all the necessary patents and rights to manufacture and sell it.

Dow Chemical's trademarked Styrofoam requires an extrusion manufacturing process, while the material in Styrofoam cups and packaging peanuts requires an expanding process. A term for expanded polystyrene is thermacol. For craft applications, people use a type of Styrofoam with a rough texture that makes a crunching sound when cut. This material is partially soluble in materials such as spray paint, cyanoacrylate and some organic solvents.

Styrofoam is one of the key components of a hydrogen bomb. After detonation, the Styrofoam absorbs high-energy gamma rays to prevent the bomb from breaking apart during the fission stage, giving time for the fusion reaction. Also, its expanding properties create the necessary compression to facilitate the fusion reaction.

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