Our modern way of life is only possible because of the technological advances of the 20th century. Many of these are well-known and highly visible: think information and communications tech. But the most impactful advances—the ones we literally could not live without—operate quietly, as silent engines of global civilization. This talk will cover what is arguably the most important advance in human history (we’ll give you a clue—our speaker is a chemist!), including the story of its discovery, development, and the complicated legacies of the key people involved.