Gutta Percha is a natural polymer, chemically the same as natural rubber, however, it has a different molecular shape, giving it different properties.
How is it Made?
The milky fluid from the gutta-percha tree (native to pacific rim nations) is evaporated. The resultant latex is then coagulated.
Gutta percha was first introduced to the west by William Mongomerie in 1843. He demonstrated to the Royal Society of Arts in London, the materials’ ability to be heated and moulded.
Properties of Interest
Montgomerie also demonstrated that gutta-percha was able to maintain a tough form after having been heated and moulded. Faraday soon after discovered that gutta percha was an excellent electrical insulator.
Submarine Cable Insulation
IN the mid 1800’s gutta percha was deemed to be the most suitable materials for submarine cable insulation. It was thought to be superior to Indian rubber (the current material) as it became hard but not brittle. Furthermore, the cold underwater environment improved the insulating properties of the gutta percha and shielded it from sunlight which had a deleterious effect on it.
The first use of such cables for telephony was to bridge the English channel between England and France with partial success 1850 and more successfully in 1851.
Shortly after its discovery by the western world, gutta percha was used for a variety of applications such as jewellery making. It has also been used by mould makers for medals to test their moulds as the material does not shrink upon cooling.
In 1848 it became a desirable material for golf balls. Prior to this time, golf balls were made from feathers encased in leather. These golf balls were expensive and were impossible to use in wet weather. Solid gutta percha golf balls overcame both of these problems and provided much more consistent results. These aspects were responsible for the rapid growth of the game around this time period.
Gutta percha is rarely used today, although some dentists use it to make temporary fillings. It is sometimes used in conjunction with Balata resin, a nearly identical material in conveyor belts.