The Ultimate Polymer Science Guide


Polymers are chain like structures formed by joining molecules, bit by bit into a larger one. The bonds between the molecules are similar. The large structure formed that is formed are then referred to as macro molecules.

Polymers are all around you

  • Neoprene: Neoprene is like rubber and can resist the attack of chemicals. It is used in the making of hoses, wetsuits and shoe soles.
  • Polyamide (nylon): These are water proof polymers. They are used in making carpets, ropes, boat sails and swim ware.
  • Polyester: These are elastic polymers. They are used in making conveyor belts, coat insulation, tire cords and sleeping bag insulation.
  • Polyvinyl Fluoride: These are resistant to chemicals and are therefore used in making corrosive chemical containers.

A breakdown of polymers

There are different kinds of polymers. This is because the way molecules join together can be different. More so, different bond types among polymers cause the differences in the properties of polymers. Some common types of polymers are polyethylene, nylon, polyisoprene and epoxy resins.

  • What is polyisoprene? This is the basic constituent of natural rubber. They are elastic in nature.
  • What is nylon? Nylons are made from petroleum products. They are man-mad polymers.
  • What are epoxy resins? These are also called polyepoxides. They are useful as adhesives, especially in engineering activities such as in the construction of automobiles.

How polymers are different

Polymers have their specific uses and these uses depend on their properties. The different properties of polymers come as a result of the differences in the way they are formed. Hard polymers for example must have very strong bonds/linkages holding the structure together. Some factors that cause the differences in polymers are:

  • Chain entanglement: Chain entanglement is a characteristic feature of polymers with long chains. It is this tangling phenomenon that makes polymers hard.
  • Summation of intermolecular forces: The intermolecular forces that lead to the bonding of the polymers are different. These forces, having their different strengths tend to affect the overall formation of polymers.
  • Time scale of motion: The compactness of the molecules that make up a polymer prevents its free flow/movement of the individual monomers.

How polymers are made

Polymers exist in both the natural and artificial forms. The artificial polymers are made in the industries by the use of petroleum products. These petroleum products are made to undergo chemical reactions called polymerization. Polymerization is the process whereby the reacting materials combine to form a product which combine again with themselves again, again and again to form a large molecule. In polymerization, catalysts, heat and pressure are applied appropriately for a successful reaction to b established. Some terms worth explaining on the production of polymers are:

  • Free radical polymerization: This process starts with initiation, then propagation and finally, termination.
  • Condensation reactions: This is the process whereby monomers that combine must have not less than two reactive groups to form a polymer.
  • Copolymers: This is formed by the combination of two or more different monomers in the same polymer chain. Copolymers can have characteristics different from the constituent monomers.

The characterization of polymers

It is known that polymers are very useful to the society. To ascertain their usefulness, it is important to know their constituents and characteristics. These cannot be done effectively with any physical technique. The truth is that as more and more studies are done on polymers, more applications in their uses come up. Characterizing polymers can be done in these ways: