Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Famous inventions: Superglue

Famous inventions: SuperglueHow did an invention designed to improve weapons end up saving lives?

In 1942 Dr Harry Coover was trying to isolate a clear plastic to make precision gun sights for handheld weaponry. For a while he was working with chemicals known as cyanoacrylates, which he soon realised polymerised on contact with moisture, causing all the test materials to bond together. It was obvious that these wouldn’t work, so research moved on.

6 years later, Coover was working in a Tennessee chemical plant and realized the potential of the substance when they were testing the heat resistance of cyanoacrylates, recognizing that the adhesives required neither heat nor pressure to form a strong bond. Thus, after a certain amount of commercial refinement, Superglue (or “Alcohol-Catalyzed Cyanoacrylate Adhesive Composition”, to give it its full name) was born.

It was later used for treating injured soldiers in Vietnam – the adhesive could be sprayed on open wounds, which slowed bleeding and allowed easier transportation of soldiers. That’s how a discovery made during an effort to improve the killing potential of guns ended up saving countless lives.

Did you know

Another use for cyanoacrylate is at crime scenes. The deposits from an invisible fingerprint react with fumes from warmed cyanocrylate and moisture in the atmosphere to form a white polymer. The fingerprints are then visible to be recorded.