Mid-year report, and the genius of Polaroid and Impossible Project chemists

Here’s a small selection of recent Impossible Project images…
In February I took one pack of the then latest PX70 test film with me to France. The colours are fantastic!

I’ve also still been enjoying the PX100 test film:

And the latest test film I’ve been playing with is the PX680 “Cool” film. Lovely!

I’m in France as I write this, and have been trying out the new PX70 Cool film – initial report is it’s very nice! I’ve been turning the dial 3/4 of the way to dark, and the results are great. Scans to follow…

On a side-note, I’ve been working my way through a book from 1987 by Richard Saul Wurman called “Polaroid Access: Fifty Years” (I got it as a downloaded PDF a few years ago, but can’t find a link for it any more). If you can find it, download or physical, it’s well worth it – the book is informative and well illustrated.

The reason for bringing it up is a section from 1969 about the creation of the opacification layer for the SX-70 film. Here’s the whole passage – read carefully, there will be an exam at the end of term:

RESEARCH: A 189-chemist laboratory is working on one of the toughest SX-70 projects, the search for a film opacifier. This complex chemical compound would have to be invisible during exposure, thus allowing light to strike the negative; opaque during development, protecting the image layer from light; and completely transparent after development, so the final color image would show through. Land assumes that Polaroid can solve the problem and designs a camera with this in mind. Hundreds of chemicals are formulated, tested, and discarded in the search for an effective opacifier. Eventually Polaroid chemists synthesise new phenolphthalein indicator dyes which become highly coloured in an alkaline solution, similar to the development process of silver halide grains. This thin opaque layer lets through less than one-millionth of the light that reaches the film surface during development. Yet near the end of the development process, as alkali is captured in a polymeric acid layer and the pH of the system drops, the indicator dyes again colourless.
Late in 1969, about 50 top Polaroid scientists gather for the debut performance of the film opacifier. Later, when the first 80 pounds of opacifier is manufactured, Dr. Land rewards the crew of inventors with a cake emblazoned with the words:

“and the darkness shall become light”
A few things strike me about this: Polaroid was a huge company, and the calibre and number of the chemists working there meant that Land could confidently push ahead designing a camera for a film system that sounds impossible. Also, what a visionary! This embodies his quote which named the Impossible Project:

 “Don’t undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible”
Also, cake!

What brings this thought up is what an amazing job The Impossible Project scientists are doing: Polaroid were working on this issue for years before it was released to the public, because they could afford to. Polaroid at the time was a huge corporation, with vast reserves and resources. The three years between their chemists perfecting it and the camera’s release is how long The Impossible Project has been going, with its single factory and small group of chemists, formulating a new chemical from scratch. And that blue opacification layer gets better with the newer generations of film.
So I take my hat off to the geniuses past and present who’ve cracked these extraordinary puzzles to give us the miracle of integral instant film. Thank you!


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