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Engineering LibreTexts

Polymer Chemistry

Polymers are giant molecules (also called macromolecules) that are essential to our existence. They are important chemicals in our bodies (proteins, poly(nucleic acids)), in plants (starch, cellulose), and in our everyday lives (fibers, plastics, elastomers). Polymers are made by transforming small molecules (monomers) into molecules with very large molecular weights. Although the chemical properties of polymers are similar to those of analogous small molecules, their physical properties are quite different. Every polymer has its own characteristics, but most polymers have the following general properties:

  1. Polymers can be very resistant to chemicals.
  2. Polymers can be both thermal and electrical insulators.
  3. Generally, polymers are light in weight with varying degrees of strength.
  4. Polymers can be processed in various ways to produce thin fibers or intricate parts.

Several key parameters determine the properties of a polymer: Chemical Composition, Molecular Weight Distribution, Topology, Isomerism, Morphology.

This resource will concentrate on these parameters and their influence on polymer properties. Links to other useful polymer chemistry sites are listed below.

Contributors

  • David Whisnant (Wofford College). Partial support for this work was provided by the National Science Foundation's Division of Undergraduate Education through grants DUE #9950809 and DUE #9950296. Additional support was provided by the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation.