IELTS® Academic Reading Practice 28

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The Birth of Modern Plastics

The term plastic comes from the Greek plassein, meaning “to mold.” Some plastics are derived from natural sources, some are semi-synthetic (the result of chemical action on a natural substance), and some are entirely synthetic, that is, chemically engineered from the constituents of coal or oil. Some are “thermoplastic,” which means that, like candle wax, they melt when heated and can then be reshaped. Others are “thermosetting,” like eggs, meaning that they cannot revert to their original viscous state, and their shape is permanently fixed.

In 1907, Leo Hendrik Baekeland, a Belgian scientist working in New York, discovered and patented a revolutionary new synthetic material. His invention, which he named “Bakelite,” was of enormous technological importance, and effectively launched the modern plastics industry. Bakelite had the distinction of being the first totally synthetic thermosetting plastic.

The history of today's plastics begins with the discovery of a series of semi-synthetic thermoplastic materials in the mid-nineteenth century. The driving force behind the development of these early plastics was generated by a number of factors, those being immense technological progress in the domain of chemistry, coupled with wider cultural changes, and finally the pragmatic need to find acceptable substitutes for dwindling supplies of luxury materials such as tortoiseshell and ivory.

Baekeland's interest in plastics began in 1885 when, as a young chemistry student in Belgium, he embarked on research into phenolic resins, the group of sticky substances produced when phenol (carbolic acid) combines with an aldehyde (a volatile fluid similar to alcohol). He soon abandoned the subject, however, only returning to it some years later. By 1905 he was a wealthy New Yorker, having recently made his fortune with the invention of a new photographic paper. While Baekeland had been busily amassing dollars, some advances had been made in the development of plastics. The years 1899 and 1900 had seen the patenting of the first semi-synthetic thermosetting material that could be manufactured on an industrial scale. In purely scientific terms, Baekeland's major contribution to the field is not so much the actual discovery of the material to which he gave his name, but rather the method by which a reaction between phenol and formaldehyde could be controlled, thus making plastic production possible a commercial basis. On July 13 1907, Baekeland took out his famous patent describing the preparation of synthetic thermosetting plastic, the basic principles of which are still in use today.

The original patent outlined a three-stage process, in which phenol and formaldehyde (from wood or coal) were initially combined in a vacuum inside a large egg-shaped kettle. The result was a resin known as Novalak, which became soluble and malleable when heated. The resin was allowed to cool in shallow trays until it hardened, and then broken up and ground into powder. Other substances were then introduced, including fillers, such as wood flour, asbestos or cotton, which increase strength and. moisture resistance, catalysts (substances to speed up the reaction between two chemicals without joining to either) and hexa, a compound of ammonia and formaldehyde which supplied the additional formaldehyde necessary to form a thermosetting resin. This resin was then left to cool and harden, and ground up a second time. The resulting granular powder was raw Bakelite, ready to be made into a vast range of manufactured objects. In the last stage, the heated Bakelite was poured into a hollow mold of the required shape and subjected to extreme heat and pressure; thereby 'setting' its form for life.

The design of Bakelite objects, everything from earrings to television sets, was governed to a large extent by the technical requirements of the molding process. The object could not be designed so that it was locked into the mold and therefore difficult to extract. A common general rule was that objects should taper towards the deepest part of the mold, and if necessary the product was molded in separate pieces. Molds had to be carefully designed so that the molten Bakelite would flow evenly and completely into the mold. Sharp corners proved impractical and were thus avoided, giving rise to the smooth, “streamlined” style popular in the 1930s. The thickness of the walls of the mold was also crucial. Thick walls took longer to cool and harden, a factor which had to be considered by the designer in order to make the most efficient use of machines.

Baekeland's invention, although treated with disdain in its early years, went on to enjoy an unparalleled popularity which lasted throughout the first half of the twentieth century. It became the wonder product of the new world of industrial expansion, known as “the material of a thousand uses.Being both non-porous and heat-resistant, Bakelite kitchen goods were promoted as being germ-free and sterilizable. Electrical manufacturers were drawn to its insulating properties and consumers everywhere relished its dazzling array of shades, delighted that they were now, at last, no longer restricted to the wood tones and drab browns of the prep fistic era. It then fell from favor again during the 1950s and was despised and destroyed in vast quantities. Recently, however, it has been experiencing something of a renaissance, with renewed demand for original Bakelite objects in the collectors' marketplace, and museums, societies, and dedicated individuals once again appreciating the style and originality of this innovative material.




This reading practice simulates one part of the IELTS Academic Reading test. You should spend about twenty minutes on it. Read the passage and answer questions 1-14.
Questions 1-7
Do the following statements agree with the information given in the reading passage? In boxes 1-7 on your answer sheet, write

YES   if the statement reflects the claims of the writer
NO   if the statement contradicts the claims of the writer
NOT GIVEN   if it is impossible to say what the writer thinks about this

1. Baekeland's invention is a cheaper alternative to other types of plastics.

2. Baekeland's main scientific contribution was his discovery of the Bakelite material.

3. Modern-day plastic preparation is based on the same principles as that patented in 1907.

4. Designers of objects made with Bakelite had to work within the limitations of the material.

5. The facility with which the object could be removed from the mould does not influence the design of Bakelite objects.

6. The style which became popular in the 1930’s was related to the process of making Bakelite.

7. Retailers advertised Bakelite kitchen goods as being clean and less likely to make people sick.

Questions 8-11
Complete the short answers below.

Choose NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the passage for each answer.

Write your answers in 8-11 on your answer sheet.

8. What does “plassien” mean in Greek?

9. Which of his inventions originally made Baekeland wealthy?

10. What are the two substances combined initially in the process of making Bakelite?

11. What technical requirements of making Bakelite should designers of Bakelite objects consider?

Questions 12-14
Complete the summary below.

Choose NO MORE THAN ONE WORD from the passage for each answer.

Write your answers in 12-14 on your answer sheet.

Behaving in a similar way to candlewax, some plastics are , meaning they melt under heat and can be moulded into new forms. Bakelite was unique because it was the first material to be both entirely  in origin, and thermosetting. There were several factors contributing to the development of early plastics in the nineteenth century, among them the great advances that had been made in the field of and the search for alternatives to diminishing supplies of natural resources like ivory.




Answer Sheet
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
N/A
16
N/A
17
N/A
18
N/A
19
N/A
20
N/A
21
N/A
22
N/A
23
N/A
24
N/A
25
N/A
26
N/A
27
N/A
28
N/A
29
N/A
30
N/A
31
N/A
32
N/A
33
N/A
34
N/A
35
N/A
36
N/A
37
N/A
38
N/A
39
N/A
40
N/A


Reading Passage Vocabulary
The Birth of Modern Plastics


The term plastic comes from the Greek plassein, meaning “to mold.” Some plastics are derived from natural sources, some are semi-synthetic (the result of chemical action on a natural substance), and some are entirely synthetic, that is, chemically engineered from the constituents of coal or oil. Some are “thermoplastic,” which means that, like candle wax, they melt when heated and can then be reshaped. Others are “thermosetting,” like eggs, meaning that they cannot revert to their original viscous state, and their shape is permanently fixed.

In 1907, Leo Hendrik Baekeland, a Belgian scientist working in New York, discovered and patented a revolutionary new synthetic material. His invention, which he named “Bakelite,” was of enormous technological importance, and effectively launched the modern plastics industry. Bakelite had the distinction of being the first totally synthetic thermosetting plastic.

The history of today's plastics begins with the discovery of a series of semi-synthetic thermoplastic materials in the mid-nineteenth century. The driving force behind the development of these early plastics was generated by a number of factors, those being immense technological progress in the domain of chemistry, coupled with wider cultural changes, and finally the pragmatic need to find acceptable substitutes for dwindling supplies of luxury materials such as tortoiseshell and ivory.

Baekeland's interest in plastics began in 1885 when, as a young chemistry student in Belgium, he embarked on research into phenolic resins, the group of sticky substances produced when phenol (carbolic acid) combines with an aldehyde (a volatile fluid similar to alcohol). He soon abandoned the subject, however, only returning to it some years later. By 1905 he was a wealthy New Yorker, having recently made his fortune with the invention of a new photographic paper. While Baekeland had been busily amassing dollars, some advances had been made in the development of plastics. The years 1899 and 1900 had seen the patenting of the first semi-synthetic thermosetting material that could be manufactured on an industrial scale. In purely scientific terms, Baekeland's major contribution to the field is not so much the actual discovery of the material to which he gave his name, but rather the method by which a reaction between phenol and formaldehyde could be controlled, thus making plastic production possible a commercial basis. On July 13 1907, Baekeland took out his famous patent describing the preparation of synthetic thermosetting plastic, the basic principles of which are still in use today.

The original patent outlined a three-stage process, in which phenol and formaldehyde (from wood or coal) were initially combined in a vacuum inside a large egg-shaped kettle. The result was a resin known as Novalak, which became soluble and malleable when heated. The resin was allowed to cool in shallow trays until it hardened, and then broken up and ground into powder. Other substances were then introduced, including fillers, such as wood flour, asbestos or cotton, which increase strength and. moisture resistance, catalysts (substances to speed up the reaction between two chemicals without joining to either) and hexa, a compound of ammonia and formaldehyde which supplied the additional formaldehyde necessary to form a thermosetting resin. This resin was then left to cool and harden, and ground up a second time. The resulting granular powder was raw Bakelite, ready to be made into a vast range of manufactured objects. In the last stage, the heated Bakelite was poured into a hollow mold of the required shape and subjected to extreme heat and pressure; thereby 'setting' its form for life.

The design of Bakelite objects, everything from earrings to television sets, was governed to a large extent by the technical requirements of the molding process. The object could not be designed so that it was locked into the mold and therefore difficult to extract. A common general rule was that objects should taper towards the deepest part of the mold, and if necessary the product was molded in separate pieces. Molds had to be carefully designed so that the molten Bakelite would flow evenly and completely into the mold. Sharp corners proved impractical and were thus avoided, giving rise to the smooth, “streamlined” style popular in the 1930s. The thickness of the walls of the mold was also crucial. Thick walls took longer to cool and harden, a factor which had to be considered by the designer in order to make the most efficient use of machines.

Baekeland's invention, although treated with disdain in its early years, went on to enjoy an unparalleled popularity which lasted throughout the first half of the twentieth century. It became the wonder product of the new world of industrial expansion, known as “the material of a thousand uses.Being both non-porous and heat-resistant, Bakelite kitchen goods were promoted as being germ-free and sterilizable. Electrical manufacturers were drawn to its insulating properties and consumers everywhere relished its dazzling array of shades, delighted that they were now, at last, no longer restricted to the wood tones and drab browns of the prep fistic era. It then fell from favor again during the 1950s and was despised and destroyed in vast quantities. Recently, however, it has been experiencing something of a renaissance, with renewed demand for original Bakelite objects in the collectors' marketplace, and museums, societies, and dedicated individuals once again appreciating the style and originality of this innovative material.

 
IELTS Academic Reading Tips for Success
These are general tips that will appear on all reading questions.

Tips to improve your reading speed
To get a high score on the IELTS reading section, you need to have a fast reading speed. To have a fast reading speed, you need to improve your vocabulary and practice dissecting sentences. One strategy to dissect a sentence is to look for the subject and verb of the sentence. Finding the subject and verb will help you better understand the main idea of said sentence. Keep in mind, a common feature of a IELTS reading passage is to join strings of ideas to form long compound sentences. This produces large chunks that students have a hard time absorbing. Do not get overwhelmed by its length, just look for the subject and verb, the rest of the ideas will flow.


Keep in mind, having a slow reading speed makes skimming or scanning a reading passage more difficult. The process of quickly skimming through a reading passage for specific keywords or main ideas is a requirement for you to employ successful reading strategies to improve your IELTS reading score. In other words, skimming and scanning are critical skills to ensure you complete all questions in the allotted time frame.
IELTS Reading Strategies
Once you can read and comprehend a passage with a rate of, at least, 220 words per minute, you'll be ready to start implementing our strategies. All too often, students spend too much time reading the passages and not enough time answering the questions. Here is a step by step guide for tackling the reading section.

  1. Step 1: Read questions first

    One of the most common mistakes that candidates make when approaching the reading exam is reading every single word of the passages. Although you can practice for the exam by reading for pleasure, "reading blindly" (reading without any sense of what the questions will ask) will not do you any favors in the exam. Instead, it will hurt your chances for effectively managing your time and getting the best score.

    The main reason to read the questions first is because the type of question may determine what you read in the passage or how you read it. For example, some question types will call for the "skimming" technique, while others may call for the "scanning" technique.

    It is important to answer a set of questions that are of the same question type. You'll need to determine which question type you want to tackle first. A good strategy would be to start with the easier question type and move on to more difficult question types later. The Easiest question types are the ones where you spend less time reading. For example, the Matching Heading question type is an easier one because you only need to find the heading that best describes the main idea of a paragraph. An example of a difficult question type would be Identifying Information. For this question type, you'll need to read each paragraph to find out if each statement is TRUE, FALSE, or NOT GIVEN according to the passage.

    Here is a table that lists the difficulty levels for each question type. Use this table as a reference when choosing which question type you want to tackle first.


    Difficulty level Question Type
    Easy Sentence Completion
    Short answer
    Medium Matching Features
    Multiple choice
    Matching Headings
    Summary, Table, Flow-Chart Completion
    Difficult Matching Sentence Endings
    Matching Information
    Identifying Information (TRUE/FALSE/NOT GIVEN)
    Identifying Viewer's claims (YES/NO/NOT GIVEN)

  2. Step 2: Read for an objective

    After you've read the questions for the passage, you will be able to read for an objective. What does this mean? For example, if you come across a question that includes the year "1896", you can make a note of when this year comes up in the text, using it to answer the question later on. There are two reading techniques that will help you stay on track with reading for an objective. The first one, skimming, is best defined as reading fast in order to get the "gist", or general idea, or a passage. With this technique, you are not stopping for any unfamiliar words or looking for specific details. The second technique, scanning, is best defined as reading for specific information. With this technique, you are not reading for the overall gist, but rather, specific information. Notice how each of these techniques has a specific objective in mind. This will help you find information more quickly.

  3. Step 3: Take notes

    As you're reading for an objective, you should also be making notes on the margins of the passage, placing stars next to key information, or underlining things that you believe will help you answer the various questions. This will make it easier for you to check back when you are asked certain things in the questions. Choose whichever note-taking system is right for you - just make sure you do it!

  4. Step 4: Answer wisely

    After you've read the questions, read the passage, and have taken any appropriate notes, you you should have located the part of the text where you where you need to read carefully. Then just read carefully and think critically to determine the correct answer.

IELTS Reading Question Types
 
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