You interact with Polymers much more than you think.
In simple terms, they are chemicals with many repeating units. Remember those Christmas decorations where you cut up pieces of construction paper and hook them up in a chain to make a garland? That is a great way to visualize of how the units in polymers are linked together to form networks.
Polymers exist both in nature and as manufactured goods. Manufactured Polymers do not melt once they are forced and are called thermoset polymers. You see these types of polymers in Adhesives/glue that have to withstand heat like Epoxy. Alternatively, polymers that can melt are called linear or thermoplastic polymers. Examples are plastic bottles or cups.
The polymers that exist in nature serve us in diverse ways. Did you know Silk and hair are considered natural polymers? Cellulose found in wood is another natural polymer used as a raw material in the manufacture of rubber and plastics is also a natural polymer.
The way a polymer’s molecules are patterned has a significant impact on what we can make with it. Linear Polymers look very much like how spaghetti looks on a place; loose and in no particular order. They tend to be transparent which is a beneficial quality for making headlights, contact lenses and food wrap.
You can probably already guess that the polymers that are not transparent have a more defined arrangement with distinct patterns.
Here are some fundamental characteristics of polymers that make them widely used in many different applications:
- Most manufactured polymers can be heated and re-formed over and over again. This quality makes plastics, for example, easy to recycle.
- Polymers can be very resistant to chemicals. If not, all the cleaning fluids in your home packaged in plastic would very quickly degrade.
- They are great insulators. Consider the cords and electrical outlets and wiring around your house all covered in polymeric materials. In your kitchen, your pot handles, foam core of your refrigerator and freezer, coolers, microwave cookware are all resistant to heat and cold and make life much more comfortable for us all. Don’t you agree?
- Polymers can be processed in different ways and take on many different colors. They can be stretched to hold their shape as in with bottles or foamed like that crinkly styrofoam we love to play with so much.
The scientist that gets to work with polymers is called a Chemist. They are experts in a field of science called Chemistry. Chemists get to mix a lot of different chemicals to get the most optimal results for creating things that are very useful for our everyday life.
Thanks to chemists we have toothpaste, shampoo, beauty products, medicine, legos and many of the other excellent applications we have discussed already.
Perhaps the most common polymer young scientists like you have experience with is slime! Now that you understand polymers, dive into our ultimate guide to making slime to try some fun texture variations like fluffy or cloud slime or come up with your own!
Key Words: polymer, plastic, bond, chain, chemistry, thermoplastic, degrade, resistant, molecule, insulators