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At Quality Record Pressings in Salina, Kan., the influx of orders for vinyl records has been so excellent that the staff has been turning away requests since September. This resurgence in pvc pellet popularity blindsided Gary Salstrom, the company’s general manger. The organization is merely five-years old, but Salstrom has become making records for a living since 1979.

“I can’t inform you how surprised I am just,” he says.

Listeners aren’t just demanding more records; they wish to pay attention to more genres on vinyl. As most casual music consumers moved onto cassette tapes, compact discs, and after that digital downloads during the last several decades, a tiny contingent of listeners obsessive about audio quality supported a modest marketplace for certain musical styles on vinyl, notably classic jazz and orchestral recordings.

Now, seemingly the rest in the musical world is to get pressed as well. The Recording Industry Association of America reported that vinyl record sales in 2015 exceeded $400 million within the U.S. That figure is vinyl’s highest since 1988, plus it beat out revenue from ad-supported online music streaming, for example the free version of Spotify.

While old-school audiophiles along with a new wave of record collectors are supporting vinyl’s second coming, scientists are considering the chemistry of materials that carry and possess carried sounds inside their grooves as time passes. They hope that in doing so, they may boost their capacity to create and preserve these records.

Eric B. Monroe, a chemist in the Library of Congress, is studying the composition of among those materials, wax cylinders, to discover the way that they age and degrade. To help with this, he is examining a tale of litigation and skulduggery.

Although wax cylinders may seem like a primitive storage medium, these people were a revelation during the time. Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 using cylinders covered with tinfoil, but he shelved the project to work about the lightbulb, as outlined by sources at the Library of Congress.

But Edison was lured into the audio game after Alexander Graham Bell and his Volta Laboratory had created wax cylinders. Utilizing chemist Jonas Aylsworth, Edison soon designed a superior brown wax for recording cylinders.

“From an industrial viewpoint, the content is beautiful,” Monroe says. He started focusing on this history project in September but, before that, was working with the specialty chemical firm Milliken & Co., giving him a distinctive industrial viewpoint of the material.

“It’s rather minimalist. It’s just sufficient for which it must be,” he says. “It’s not overengineered.” There is one looming trouble with the stunning brown wax, though: Edison and Aylsworth never patented it.

Enter Thomas H. MacDonald of American Graphophone Co., who basically paid people off to help him copy Edison’s recipe, Monroe says. MacDonald then declared a patent on the brown wax in 1898. But the lawsuit didn’t come until after Edison and Aylsworth introduced a fresh and improved black wax.

To record sound into brown wax cylinders, every one must be individually grooved with a cutting stylus. But the black wax could be cast into grooved molds, allowing for mass production of records.

Unfortunately for Edison and Aylsworth, the black wax was really a direct chemical descendant of the brown wax that legally belonged to American Graphophone, so American Graphophone sued Edison’s National Phonograph Co. Fortunately for your defendants, Aylsworth’s lab notebooks demonstrated that Team Edison had, in fact, developed the brown wax first. The companies eventually settled from court.

Monroe has become capable to study legal depositions through the suit and Aylsworth’s notebooks due to the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University, which is trying to make a lot more than 5 million pages of documents linked to Edison publicly accessible.

Utilizing these documents, Monroe is tracking how Aylsworth with his fantastic colleagues developed waxes and gaining a greater understanding of the decisions behind the materials’ chemical design. As an illustration, inside an early experiment, Aylsworth made a soap using sodium hydroxide and industrial stearic acid. Back then, industrial-grade stearic acid had been a roughly 1:1 blend of stearic acid and palmitic acid, two essential fatty acids that differ by two carbon atoms.

That early soap was “almost perfection,” Aylsworth remarked in the notebook. But after a number of days, the outer lining showed signs and symptoms of crystallization and records created using it started sounding scratchy. So Aylsworth added aluminum for the mix and located the right combination of “the good, the bad, and the necessary” features of all of the ingredients, Monroe explains.

This mixture of stearic acid and palmitic is soft, but a lot of this makes for any weak wax. Adding sodium stearate adds some toughness, but it’s also responsible for the crystallization problem. The soft pvc granule prevents the sodium stearate from crystallizing as well as adding a little extra toughness.

In reality, this wax was a little too tough for Aylsworth’s liking. To soften the wax, he added another fatty acid, oleic acid. But most of these cylinders started sweating when summertime rolled around-they exuded moisture trapped through the humid air-and were recalled. Aylsworth then swapped the oleic acid for any simple hydrocarbon wax, ceresin. Like oleic acid, it softened the wax. Unlike oleic acid, it added an important waterproofing element.

Monroe continues to be performing chemical analyses on both collection pieces along with his synthesized samples to ensure the materials are exactly the same and that the conclusions he draws from testing his materials are legit. As an example, he is able to examine the organic content of a wax using techniques such as mass spectrometry and identify the metals in the sample with X-ray fluorescence.

Monroe revealed the very first results from these analyses last month in a conference hosted from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, or ARSC. Although his first couple of tries to make brown wax were too crystalline-his stearic acid was too pure and had no palmitic acid inside it-he’s now making substances which are almost just like Edison’s.

His experiments also propose that these metal soaps expand and contract quite a bit with changing temperatures. Institutions that preserve wax cylinders, such as universities and libraries, usually store their collections at about 10 °C. Rather than bringing the cylinders from cold storage right to room temperature, the common current practice, preservationists should permit the cylinders to warm gradually, Monroe says. This may minimize the stress about the wax and reduce the probability that it will fracture, he adds.

The similarity in between the original brown wax and Monroe’s brown wax also shows that the content degrades very slowly, which is great news for individuals for example Peter Alyea, Monroe’s colleague at the Library of Congress.

Alyea wants to recover the information stored in the cylinders’ grooves without playing them. To do this he captures and analyzes microphotographs in the grooves, a method pioneered by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Soft wax cylinders were great for recording one-off sessions, Alyea says. Business folks could capture dictations using wax and did so up in the 1960s. Anthropologists also brought the wax in the field to record and preserve the voices and stories of vanishing native tribes.

“There are 10,000 cylinders with recordings of Native Americans within our collection,” Alyea says. “They’re basically invaluable.” Having those recordings captured in the material that seems to endure time-when stored and handled properly-may seem like a stroke of fortune, but it’s less than surprising with the material’s progenitor.

“Edison was the engineer’s engineer,” Alyea says. The alterations he and Aylsworth created to their formulations always served a purpose: to help make their cylinders heartier, longer playing, or higher fidelity. These considerations and also the corresponding advances in formulations resulted in his second-generation moldable black wax and finally to Blue Amberol Records, that had been cylinders made with blue celluloid plastic instead of wax.

However, if these cylinders were so great, why did the record industry change to flat platters? It’s easier to store more flat records in less space, Alyea explains.

Emile Berliner, inventor from the gramophone, introduced disc-shaped gramophone records pressed in celluloid and hard rubber around 1890, says Bill Klinger. Klinger will be the chair of the Cylinder Subcommittee for ARSC along with encouraged the Library of Congress to start the metal soaps project Monroe is taking care of.

In 1895, Berliner introduced discs based on shellac, a resin secreted by female lac bugs, that would be a record industry staple for decades. Berliner’s discs used a blend of shellac, clay and cotton fibers, and several carbon black for color, Klinger says. Record makers manufactured numerous discs using this brittle and relatively inexpensive material.

“Shellac records dominated the marketplace from 1912 to 1952,” Klinger says. Several of these discs are now called 78s because of the playback speed of 78 revolutions-per-minute, give or go on a few rpm.

PVC has enough structural fortitude to back up a groove and resist an archive needle.

Edison and Aylsworth also stepped up the chemistry of disc records with a material called Condensite in 1912. “I believe that is probably the most impressive chemistry of the early recording industry,” Klinger says. “By comparison, the competing shellac technology was always crude.”

Klinger says Aylsworth spent years developing Condensite, a phenol-formaldehyde resin which had been comparable to Bakelite, that has been acknowledged as the world’s first synthetic plastic from the American Chemical Society, C&EN’s publisher.

What set Condensite apart, though, was hexamethylenetetramine. Aylsworth added the compound to Condensite to prevent water vapor from forming through the high-temperature molding process, which deformed a disc’s surface, Klinger explains.

Edison was literally using a lot of Condensite per day in 1914, but the material never supplanted shellac, largely because Edison’s superior product was included with a substantially higher asking price, Klinger says. Edison stopped producing records in 1929.

But when Columbia Records released vinyl long-playing records, or LPs, in 1948, shellac’s days within the music industry were numbered. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) records provide a quieter surface, store more music, and therefore are much less brittle than shellac discs, Klinger says.

Lon J. Mathias, a polymer chemist and professor emeritus at the University of Southern Mississippi, offers one other reason for why vinyl got to dominate records. “It’s cheap, and it’s easily molded,” he says. Although he can’t talk to the particular composition of today’s vinyl, he does share some general insights to the plastic.

PVC is mostly amorphous, but with a happy accident in the free-radical-mediated reactions that build polymer chains from smaller subunits, the information is 10 to 20% crystalline, Mathias says. For that reason, PVC has enough structural fortitude to assist a groove and stand up to a record needle without compromising smoothness.

Without the additives, PVC is clear-ish, Mathias says, so record vinyl needs something like carbon black allow it its famous black finish.

Finally, if Mathias was choosing a polymer for records and money was no object, he’d opt for polyimides. These materials have better thermal stability than vinyl, which is seen to warp when left in cars on sunny days. Polyimides may also reproduce grooves better and give a far more frictionless surface, Mathias adds.

But chemists continue to be tweaking and improving vinyl’s formulation, says Salstrom of Quality Record Pressings. He’s dealing with his vinyl supplier to locate a PVC composition that’s optimized for thicker, heavier records with deeper grooves to provide listeners a sturdier, higher quality product. Although Salstrom could be surprised at the resurgence in vinyl, he’s not seeking to give anyone any reasons to stop listening.

A soft brush usually can handle any dust that settles over a vinyl record. But just how can listeners cope with more tenacious grime and dirt?

The Library of Congress shares a recipe for any cleaning solution of 2 mL of Dow Chemical’s Tergitol 15-S-7 in 4 L of deionized water. C&EN spoke with Paula Cameron, a technical service manager with Dow, to learn about the chemistry that assists the transparent pvc compound go into-and out from-the groove.

Molecules in Tergitol 15-S-7 possess hydrophobic hydrocarbon chains which can be between 11 and 15 carbon atoms long. The S means it’s a secondary alcohol, so there’s a hydroxyl jutting dexrpky05 the midsection of your hydrocarbon chain to get in touch it to your hydrophilic chain of repeating ethylene oxide units.

Finally, the 7 is really a measure of how many moles of ethylene oxide are in the surfactant. The higher the number, the greater water-soluble the compound is. Seven is squarely in the water-soluble category, Cameron says. Furthermore, she adds, the surfactant doesn’t become viscous or gel-like when mixed with water.

The result is actually a mild, fast-rinsing surfactant that could get inside and outside of grooves quickly, Cameron explains. The negative news for vinyl audiophiles who might choose to use this in your own home is the fact Dow typically doesn’t sell surfactants right to consumers. Their customers are usually companies who make cleaning products.