Polymers – Most chemistry students encounter polymers at some point, as they are the basis of many synthetic organic substances, such as resins and plastics. Polymers are generally extremely large modules that are made up of many smaller molecules that join together in chains. In biology, DNA and proteins are both examples of polymers.
Chains of repeating molecules
The smaller molecules that bond together to form polymers are called monomers. Alkenes, or unsaturated hydrocarbons, have a double carbon bond and can thus act as a monomer. Examples of these include ethane, which when it undergoes the polymerisation process become poly ethane, or polythene. Propene can also be polymerised to form the commonly found plastic polypropylene.
Recycling plastics is an issue that has become more important as plastic waste clogs waterways and oceans. Innovative technology firms are looking at breaking plastics back down into their monomers to assist with recycling. For more information, see this report in The Guardian.
Polymerisation is a chemical reaction which enables the molecules involved to collide and form bonds. It requires an initial reaction between monomers and then conditions to facilitate the growth of the polymer by making more monomers attach to it. Depending on the monomers that comprise them, polymers can exhibit a range of characteristics. Monomers can have a range of chemical properties and the conditions in which polymerisation occurs – such as the temperature – also has an effect on the end result.
Silicone is a polymer formed of repeating units of the molecule siloxane. Silicone has many uses, including cooking utensils, sealants and lubrication. It can also be used to make insulation and flexible silicone hoses. If you are interested in discovering more about the incredible versatility of silicone hoses, specialist manufacturers and suppliers such as offer a wide range of products.
Polymers are a fascinating field of study and the materials that can be formed from them are one of the wonders of modern chemistry. Many polymers are formed from the by-products of petroleum refining, and as long as they are disposed of sensibly, the contribution they make to contemporary life is significant. While many polymers in the past were not biodegradable, research is producing more that can be used for recyclable purposes such as carrier bags.