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Leonardo da Vinci, inventor of plastic?

March 15, 2004 23:51 IST

Leonardo da Vinci, it seems, can add another feather to his already crowded hat.

The inventor of flying machines, submarine, robot, alarm clock and numerous other gadgets might have even invented the first unbreakable coloured plastic, reports The Times, London.

The revelation came from Italian academic Alessandro Vezzosi who studied hundreds of Leonardo's documents, drawings and notes. Vezzosi is the director of the Museo Ideale in the hometown of Leonardo -- Vinci.

Like many academics before him, Vezzosi had to wade through documents that were written in Leonardo style – 'mirror image' handwriting that runs from right to left. Apart from that the eccentric inventor had unusual spellings and abbreviations. 

Vezzosi says the manuscripts contain instructions for making a material similar to plastic, which could also imitate semi-precious stones. "He talks of a mixture. He combined colours with animal or vegetable glues, sometimes adding organic fibres," Professor Vezzosi told the newspaper.

"Leonardo created a material somewhere between natural and chemical plastic. Indeed, he had already synthesised a chemical very similar to acetone. But in his experiments he always used non-toxic, organic substances," Professor Vezzosi said.  "We used oil paint pigments and organic materials similar to those used by Leonardo, but you have to be patient and wait until each layer of colour dries completely. By adding vegetable fibres we got a hard and unbreakable final material."

Leonardo's plastic making involved building up layers using different materials such as plant leaves, paper and even cow tripe. 

Vezzosi's team followed the instructions in the manuscript and reproduced the material made by Leonardo, which were very similar to Bakelite -- the first entirely synthetic plastic patented in 1907 by Leo Baekeland, a Belgian chemist.