Vincent L. Lanza
By finding a way to stabilize the polymers used to coat communications cable, Vincent Lanza and his Bell Labs colleagues Lincoln Hawkins and Field Winslow helped make universal telephone service possible. In addition, the work enriched scientists' understanding of the polyolefin stabilization process.
Until the 1940s, a lead-based coating was used to insulate telephone cables. The lead coating was expensive, and it was also too heavy to use in the multi-cable conduits needed to serve millions of people. Plastic coatings were tried, but quickly became brittle and would disintegrate when exposed to the elements. The team found a way to stabilize polyethylene and created a plastic cable insulation that could withstand changes in temperature and other environmental factors. The new coating greatly reduced the costs of building and maintaining modern telephone systems, and the use of lead, an environmental toxin, was eliminated.
Born in Greenwich Village, New York, Lanza studied at New York University where he received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in organic chemistry. He worked at Bell Labs until 1959, when he began work at Raychem Corporation. At the time of his death, he was Raychem's vice president of research and development and recognized as a pioneer in cross-linked polymer chemistry.