Giulio Natta: Master of Polymer Chemistry and Nobel Laureate

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Giulio Natta (26 February 1903 – 2 May 1979) was an Italian chemist and Nobel laureate who is best known for his work on the development of stereospecific catalysts for polymerization reactions.

Life and Career

He was born on 26 February 1903, in Imperia, Italy. He received his BS degree in chemical engineering from the Politecnico di Milano in 1924. In 1927, he got his Ph.D. in chemistry from the same institution.

From 1929 to 1933, he also taught physical chemistry at the University of Milan’s Faculty of Science. He started working on the X-ray structures of inorganic compounds at the University of Milan. In 1932, he studied electron diffraction analysis with Hermann Staudinger in Germany and used both processes to investigate the structure of solid materials.

Later, he defined the structure of several hydroxides and hydrates. He also built an ingenious low-temperature spectrograph and described the structure of gases that solidify there.

In 1935, he was appointed as a full professor of general chemistry at the University of Rome. In the following years, he shifted to the University of Turin and remained there till 1938.

In the 1950s, he developed a stereospecific catalyst that could be used to synthesize polymers with a controlled structure and high molecular weight. This catalyst, which was based on titanium and magnesium, was widely used in the production of polypropylene and other important plastics.

Eventually, he developed linear non-branched olefinic polymers and copolymers with an atactic structure in Montecatini’s lab. He also determined the exact arrangement of chains in the lattice of the new crystalline polymers he discovered with X-ray investigations.

Natta wasn’t just a great scientist but also a great teacher and trained innumerable students, who later took on influential posts at universities. He prepared every lesson in advance, and his students appreciated his commitment to teaching.

He died on 2 May 1979, in Bergamo, Italy.

Award

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1963, along with the German chemist Karl Ziegler, for his work on stereospecific catalysts.

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