Robert W. Work

School of Textiles, NC State University

Robert W. Work
Born 1907? Died early 1994
Years of Service NCSU Textiles 1964 – 1973; in retirement 1974-1985

Robert W. Work was born in Chicago.  He received his B.S. degree in Chemistry from the University of Illinois in 1929, earned the Ph.D. in chemistry at Cornell University in 1932, and was a Hecksler Post-Graduate Fellow at Cornell for another year.

Work began his industrial career with General Electric Company and spent eight years conducting research in plastics, polymers and dielectric materials.  In 1941, he moved to the Celanese Corporation of America for 16 years.  He began as Chief Chemist of the Cumberland Maryland fiber plant and later headed the physical research department of the Celanese Research Laboratory at Summit, New Jersey.  While there, he was a member of the research team that successfully developed the Arnel triacetate fiber.  Later, he was named assistant manager of plant operations for Celanese and was based in Charlotte.  In this capacity, he supervised quality control and plant development for seven Celanese textile plants in the United States.  Work joined Chemstrand Corporation in Decatur, Alabama in 1957 and was assigned responsibility for weaving, knitting and texturing in new product development.  He became manager of technical research at the Chemstrand Research Center, Research Triangle Park, N.C. in 1958.  In 1963, Prof. Henry Rutherford invited him to lunch at the Faculty Club.  A man of few words, Rutherford said, “We’re looking for a director of research.  Are you interested?”  He was.

In 1964, Dean Malcolm Campbell appointed Work to the new position of Director of Textile Research for the School of Textiles with the title, professor of textiles.  In this position he coordinated and directed all basic and applied research activities in the school including programs sponsored by government agencies and private industry.  One of the first milestones achieved was the awarding of a $150,000 US Air Force contract concentrated on “development of fundamental engineering principles of the conversion of thermally-stable linear polymers to man-made fibers that can resist high temperature.”  It also represented a cross campus effort – Dr. James K. Ferrell of Chemical Engineering and Dr. Carl Zorowski of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering cooperated in the three-year program. Later, he joined with Clarence Asbill to build the first university dry-spinning machine in the country for use in this project.

Work was a member of the original Fiber and Polymer Science program faculty when it was formed in 1967-1968.

After retirement from his active faculty position and “paper-shuffling”, Work continued his interest in research by pursuing a diligent spider silk analysis program.  In 1972, he submitted and was given grants by National Science Foundation and the Research Corporation Foundation to study why spiders extrude fiber so efficiently.  He and colleagues wrote at least 11 articles from 1976-1987 related to the extraction of silk from spiders and the amazing tensile and elastomeric properties of spider silk.  Charlie Livengood remembered that he took pride that he could get enough research money to retain space in David Clark Labs.  Sam Hudson remembered that Bob stored dead flies in Sam’s lab refrigerator to feed the spiders.

Robert W. Work, left, visiting guest Sara Jean Ponder, Miss Wool of America, center, and John Cuculo view the new dry-spinning machine. Ca 1970-71 Copyright College of Textiles

He often peppered his conversation about research-related problems with “Don’t cha know?”  As a young faculty member with a chemical engineering and applied dyeing background, I often did not know!

Following his death in early1994, Professor Abhi Raman organized a symposium “Science of Spider Silk” at the Fall 1994 Fiber Society meeting in Atlanta November 14-16.


  • National Academy of Sciences – Materials Advisory Board
  • Fellow: Textile Institute of England and member of the American Panel
  • Fellow: American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Member: American Chemical Society; Alpha Chi Sigma, professional chemistry fraternity;
  • Fiber Society – member of the governing council and chair of awards committee
  • Member: Textile Research Institute
  • Member – Advisory Board -Journal Applied Polymer Science


  1. Robert W. Work, US Patent 2,112,414, “Electrical Insulating Composition,” Filed December, 1936, Issued March 15, 1938, Assigned to General Electric Company, New York.
  2. Kenneth H. Benton and Robert W. Work, “Resinous Composition and Method of Making the Same,” Filed December 4, 1936, Issued January 3, 1939, Assigned to General Electric Company, New York.

Selected Publications:

  1. R.W. Work, “Man-Made Fibers,” Riegel’s Industrial Chemistry, 6th Edition, 1974.
  2. R.W. Work, Force-elongation behavior of web fibers and silks forcibly obtained from orb-spinning spiders, Tex. Res. J., Vol. 46, Issue 7, pages 485-492. 1976.
  3. R.W. Work, and P.D. Emerson, An Apparatus and Technique for the Forcible Silking of Spiders, J. of Arachnology, Vol.10, Issue 1, Pages 1-10, 1982.
  4. R.E. Fornes, R.W. Work, N. Morosoff, Molecular orientation of spider silks in the natural and super-contracted states, J. Polymer Science Part B- Polymer Physics, Vol. 21, Issue 7, pages 1163-1172, 1983.
  5. R.W. Work, Viscoelastic behavior and wet supercontraction of major ampulate silk fibers of certain orb-web-building spiders (Araneae), J. Exper. Biology, Vol. 118, pages 379-404, Sep 1985.
  6. R. W. Work and C.T. Young, The amino-acid compositions of major and minor ampullate silks of certain orb-web-building spiders (Araneae, Araneidae), J. of Arachnology, Vol. 15, Issue 1, pages 65-80. Spring 1987.


Archaeology of Native Americans. Member: the Society for American Archaeology and of the state archaeological societies of Alabama and North Carolina.  In 1960, he was president of the Alabama Archaeological Society.

Married the former Anne Johnson



  1. Editor, “Industrial Research Scientist Named to New Position, Textile Forum, April 1964, pages 62-63.
  2. Editor, “Research Contract Awarded to NCSU School of Textiles,” Textile Forum, October-November 1966, page76.
  3. Editor, “Know Your Faculty,” School of Textiles News, Vol. 6, No. 1 1974
  4. Editor, “National Science Foundation Funding Research on Spider Fiber Production, “ School of Textiles News,