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Countertop manufacturers use chemistry to their advantage

Engineers learn recipe for making durable, colorful products

About the only thing I remember from high-school chemistry is the vivid blue you get when you add copper sulfate crystals to water. Had the teacher explained all those chemical compounds and heat-induced reactions in terms of common household materials, I would have been a lot more interested, and decades later I'm sure I would remember more than just one color. For example, aluminum compounds are central to the manufacture of plastic laminate and solid surface countertops. In the case of plastic laminate, aluminum oxide particles, which are almost as hard as diamonds, provide durability and toughness. In fact, the more aluminum oxide in the mix, the more scratch resistant the wear surface becomes. Curiously, this same compound is also an important ingredient of sand paper, which is highly abrasive. The aluminum oxide, so finely ground it is invisible to the naked eye, is mixed with a plastic melamine resin to form the topmost of plastic laminate's three layers. This layer functio...