It's Synthetic, Naturally!

It's Synthetic, Naturally!
Barbara Bush: Science, Medicine, Inventions and tech

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: One to two class periods


The use of synthetic materials for clothing began during the 1930s.  It afforded designers, manufacturers, and consumers options for design, comfort, and versatility as a result of chemistry.  In fact, one of the slogans for the chemical industry is “Better living through chemistry!”


The purpose of this lesson is to make students aware of the importance of chemistry in a domestic area such as textiles.    

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet. Access to print reference materials, including magazines containing photographs of fashions.


Divide the class into groups and assign one or two of the listed synthetic textiles to each group.  Their job is to research the history of their fabric, write a profile of its creation, explain how it is used currently and any difference with uses in the past, any special properties of the textile that make it especially beneficial today, and examples of it in today’s world.  The following is a list of possible topics:
  1. Orlon
  2. Nylon
  3. Dacron
  4. Polyester
  5. Lycra
  6. Spandex
  7. Acetate
  8. Acrylic
  9. Rayon
  10. Olefin

Extending the Lesson:

The teacher may wish to engage the chemistry teacher in this lesson and extend it to include the assignment of “creating” a new textile that meets the needs of fashion, industry, or the military today.

Sources & Resources:

Using Google, Web resources for each of these textiles are numerous and excellent.

This lesson was developed by Bette Brooks, Kent State University.