The Blog post contains the following IELTS Reading Questions:
- IELTS reading sentence completion
- IELTS reading yes/no/not given
- IELTS reading note completion
IELTS Reading Passage – BAKELITE – The birth of modern plastics
BAKELITE – The birth of modern plastics
In 1907, a Belgian scientist named Leo Hendrick Baekeland working in New York, discovered and patented a new revolutionary synthetic substance. His invention, which he named ‘Bakelite’, was of great technological importance, and led to the launch of the modern plastic industry.
The word ‘plastic’ originated from the Greek word plassein, which means ‘to mould’. Plastics can be derived from natural sources. Some plastics are semi-synthetic which is a result of chemical action on a natural substance. Some types of plastics are entirely synthetic, i.e., chemically engineered from the components of coal or oil. Plastics have ‘thermoplastic’ behaviour, which means that it melts when heated and can then be reshaped like candle wax. Few others have ‘thermosetting’ characteristics like eggs. They cannot go back to their original state, and its shape does not change forever. Bakelite became the first totally synthetic thermosetting plastic.
The history of today’s plastics dates back to the mid 19th century with the discovery of a series of semi-synthetic thermoplastic materials. The need for the development of these early plastics was due to many factors like immense technological progress in the domain of chemistry, along with wider cultural changes, and the practical requirements to discover suitable substitutes for decreasing supplies of luxury items like tortoiseshell and ivory.
Baekeland was interested in plastics from 1885. As a young chemistry student in Belgium, he started his research on phenolic resins – a group of sticky substances produced when phenol (carbolic acid) combines with an aldehyde (a volatile fluid similar to alcohol). He then stopped the subject, however, only returning to it some years later. He became a wealthy New Yorker by 1905, after he made his fortune with the invention of a new photographic paper. While Baekeland had been busy making money, some innovations had been made to develop plastics. The first semi-synthetic thermosetting material was patented during 1899 and 1900 which could be made on an industrial scale. In scientific terms, Baekeland’s work in this field does not contribute so much to the actual discovery of the material to which he gave his name, but rather the way in which the reaction between phenol and formaldehyde could be controlled, to make its preparation possible on an industrial level. Baekeland took out his famous patent with the preparation and the essential features on 13 July 1907, which are still in use today.
The original patent was a process that had 3 stages, where phenol and formaldehyde (from wood or coal) were first mixed inside vacuum in a large round kettle. A resin was formed from it known as Novalak, which becomes soluble and malleable when heated. Then the resin was let to cool in small trays until it became hard, and then was smashed and ground into powder. Other substances (fillers) like wood flour, asbestos or cotton were introduced, which increase strength and moisture resistance, catalysts and hexa (a compound of ammonia and formaldehyde which supplied the additional formaldehyde necessary to form a thermosetting resin). The resin was then given time to cool and harden and is again powered for a second time. This granular powder is the raw Bakelite, which can be made into numerous types of solid objects. In the final stage, the Bakelite is heated and poured into a hollow mould with the required shape and is exposed to extreme heat and pressure; and setting its form forever.
From chairs to TV sets the design of Bakelite objects was governed to a large extent by the technical needs of the moulding process. The object cannot be designed so that it was locked into the mould and was tough to extract. A common rule was that objects should move towards the deepest part of the mould, and if necessary, the piece was moulded as separate pieces. Moulds should be carefully designed so that the molten Bakelite could flow properly and evenly into the shape. Sharp corners were not practical so it had to be removed, giving rise to the smooth, ‘streamlined’ style which was popular in the 1930s. Thick walls take longer to cool and harden. The thickness of the walls of the mould was very crucial – a factor which had to be taken into consideration by the designer to make the most out of the machines.
Baekeland’s invention was treated with arrogance by the public in the early years. But it gained unmatched popularity which lasted throughout the first half of the 20th century. It became a spectacular invention for the industrial expansion of the new world. It was described as a material of a thousand uses. Bakelite being non-porous and heat-resistant, was used to manufacture kitchen goods and were advertised as being sterilisable and germ-free. Electrical manufacturers caught on to its electricity insulating properties, and people admired its bright shades of colours, at last, delighted that they are no longer restricted to the wood tones and dark brown colours of the preplastic era. In the 1950s it then became unpopular and was neglected and destroyed in large quantities. Recently, it again gained popularity with more requirements for original Bakelite products in the collectors’ marketplace, and museums, societies. People once again appreciated the style and originality of this innovative material.
Bakelite Reading Questions
Complete the sentences below.
Choose NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS AND/OR A NUMBERS from the passage for each answer.
1 The history of today’s plastics dates back to the mid ________ with the discovery of a series of semi-synthetic thermoplastic materials. 2 In 1907, a Belgian scientist named _________ working in New York, discovered and patented a new revolutionary synthetic substance.3 The word ‘plastic’ originated from the Greek word ________, which means ‘to mould’. 4 A resin was formed from it known as ________, which becomes soluble and malleable when heated.5 Bakelite being ________ and heat-resistant, was used to manufacture kitchen goods and were advertised as being sterilisable and germ-free.
Enhance your sentence completion skills in the IELTS Reading section. Click here to access our comprehensive guide and learn effective strategies for filling in missing words or phrases in sentences.
Do the following statements agree with the information given in the Reading Passage?
YES if the statement agrees with the claims of the writer
NO, if the statement contradicts the claims of the writer
NOT GIVEN if it is impossible to say what the writer thinks about this
6 Plastics cannot be derived from natural sources. 7 Moulds should be carefully designed so that the molten Bakelite could flow properly and evenly into the shape. 8 Baekeland’s invention gained popularity in the first half of the twentieth century. 9 Novalak is soluble and malleable when heated. 10 Baekeland didn’t realise the bad effects of plastic on the environment.
Want to excel in identifying the writer’s views and claims? Click here to explore our in-depth guide on how to accurately determine Yes, No, or Not Given in the IELTS Reading section.
Complete the notes below. Write NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS AND/ OR A NUMBER from the passage for each answer.
11 _______ is a compound of ammonia and formaldehyde. 12 Synthetic plastics can be made from ________ or oil. 13 Bakelite had electricity ________ properties. 14 Bakelite is sterilisable and ________. 15 ________ style which was popular in the 1930s
Boost your performance in Summary, Notes, Table, and Flowchart Completion tasks. Click here to explore our detailed guide and learn how to effectively complete summaries, notes, tables, and flowcharts in the IELTS Reading section.
Unlock your full potential in the IELTS Reading section – Visit our IELTS Reading Practice Question Answer page now!
Bakelite Reading Answers
1. Answer: 19th century
2. Answer: Leo Hendrick Baekeland
3. Answer: plassei
4. Answer: Novalak
5. Answer: non-porous
Bakelite Reading Answers 6-10
6. Answer: No
7. Answer: Yes
8. Answer: Yes
9. Answer: Yes
10. Answer: Not given
Bakelite Reading Answers 11-15
11. Answer: hexa
12. Answer: coal
13. Answer: insulating
14. Answer: germ-free
15. Answer: streamlined
We hope you found this post useful in helping you to study for the IELTS Test. If you have any questions please let us know in the comments below or on the Facebook page.
The best way to keep up to date with posts like this is to like us on Facebook, then follow us on Instagram and Pinterest. If you need help preparing for the IELTS Test, join the IELTS Achieve Academy and see how we can assist you to achieve your desired band score. We offer an essay correction service, mock exams and online courses.