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3M Centuries of Innovation

Innovation in Everyday Life

What Makes Them Stick?

How do every day products come to be?
What is the science behind them? Take for example a
Post-It Note. How were they developed? Who was
behind this innovation? How do they work? Here we
will briefly explore these questions and take a look
into the life of scientists working at 3M, a company
behind many of today’s innovative ideas.

That’s all interesting, but what’s the science
behind them? Why do Post-It Notes work? In short,
the answer is because of “forces.” Take for example a
water molecule (H2O), the oxygen atoms have a slight
(-) charge and the hydrogen atoms have a slight (+)
charge. This is due to uneven sharing of electrons
within the water molecule (polar covalent bond), since
oxygen is more electronegative than hydrogen. These
positive and negative charges cause individual water
molecules (H2O) to stick to each other, this is called
cohesion. To get a better mental picture of this take a
look at [Fig. 1].

Post-It Notes all started in 1968 when a
scientist at 3M, Dr. Spencer Silver, was trying to
develop a really strong adhesive but instead
accidently created a reusable, pressure-sensitive
adhesive. Dr. Spencer tried to market his adhesive
through 3M for about five years but it failed to catch
on because, Dr. Silver had developed a “solution
without a problem.” This all changed in 1973 when
another scientist from 3M, Art Fry remembered
Spencer’s adhesive and thought it could be used to
anchor the bookmark in his church hymnbook. Fry
began to use his resources at 3M to develop the new
product. Interestingly, the original yellow color was
picked by coincidence because the lab next door to
the Post-It team only had yellow scrap paper to use.
Post-It notes were originally marketed with the name
“Press ’n Peel” and were not immediately successful.
It was only after free samples were given to the public
and the name was changed to Post-It Notes that they
really took off in 1980 (Wiki, 2016).

http://www.mtchs.org/BIO/t

[Fig. 1]

ext/chapter4/04images/0412.gi

We’ve talked about why water sticks to itself, but
why does it stick to the window? This is also due to
forces, in this case there is an attraction between the
slightly charged water molecules and the surface of
the other object, ours being the glass of a window.
This attraction between unlike molecules is called
adhesion [Fig. 2].
This idea of
cohesion and
adhesion will be
used to help
explain Post-It
Notes.

Think about it:
1. Science is often viewed as not being
creative, in what ways would you say
these scientists at 3M used creativity?
2. Dr. Silver’s initial setback was that he had
developed a “solution without a problem.”
Why do you think this was the case?

[Fig.2]
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multimages/1
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1

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on.jpg

http://study.c
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http://study.com/cimages/multimages/16/cohesio
n_versus_adhesion.jpg

3M Centuries of Innovation
So back to our little Post-It Note, how
does that work? Each Post-It actually has
microscopic glue bubbles on the back
side of it [Fig. 3].

Another 3M scientist Olester
Benson, describes a typical day in
his lab. “Innovation is a way of life
at 3M, and with that type of culture
comes the expectation that you’ll
not only interact with various
materials and technologies to find
new ways to solve problems, but
you’ll do so through connecting
[Fig.3]
with others. That’s what
makes progress
real…constantly
communicating and
sharing ideas with each
other to achieve the best
possible solution.
Working with such a
diverse network of people
who are passionate
[Fig.4]
about science and
innovation has allowed
me to research and develop new technologies that
have impacted many different industries, including
medical, safety, traffic control, energy, aerospace,
home improvement, semiconductor processing, and
electronic displays. Can you imagine? I get to work
with microscopic prisms that bend light to make the
screens of cell phones, laptop computers and LCD
TV’s brighter and more colorful!” (Benson, 2014)

In order for the Post-It Note to work,
these glue bubbles must perform much
like the cohesive and adhesive forces we
discussed with the water molecules. They
must stick to the paper of the Post-It and
the surface that you wish the
Post-it to stick to (adhesive
forces). We must not forget that
the glue molecules must also
stick to themselves (cohesive
forces) [Fig. 4].
This is a big job for such a
small amount of glue. “For
adhesives such as that on the
Post-It to work, they have to
spread thinly and cover the
surfaces very well. There's no actual chemical bond
between the glue and the surface molecules it's
sticking to, just a huge number of tiny attractive
forces. The glue molecules stick to the surface
molecules like millions of microscopic magnets”
(Woodward, 2007).
Think about it:
1. Identify the intramolecular and
intermolecular forces that are present in
the water example and Post-It Note.

Think about it:
1. How does the way in which these
scientists conduct their work surprise
you? Why do you think this is?
2. In what way do these scientists utilize
collaboration in their everyday work?
What benefits does this offer them?

The backbone of 3M
There are many scientists at 3M applying their
knowledge of natural phenomena like that of
inter/intra molecular forces to research and develop
new innovations. Here is an account from one 3M
scientist named Kris Thunhorst. She states: “I’ve
always been a curious person, taking note of
everything around me. As I progressed through
school, I would notice products in a store and think,
one day, I want to know something is on that shelf
because I helped put it there! I went to college to
study engineering, motivated by an interest to make a
difference, and to make the world a better place in
whatever way I could contribute.” (Thunhorst, 2014)

Sources Cited
Benson, Olester. (2014) Scientists in everyday like. Retrieved from
http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/3MCompany/Information/Resources/History/
Thunhorst, Kris (2014) Scientists in everyday like. Retrieved from
http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/3MCompany/Information/Resources/History/
Woodford, Chris. (2007) Adhesives. Retrieved from
http://www.explainthatstuff.com/adhesives.html.
Wikipedia.Wikimedia Foudation, n.d. Web.18 Mar. 2016.

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