The Chemistry of Polymers


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Employers recognize the importance of a solid education in the fundamentals of chemistry, as well as the value of the interdisciplinary degree available through programs in polymer science. Materials science and surface science are related fields, as is biochemistry when studying biopolymers such as proteins, DNA, RNA or polysaccharides. While much research and product development in industry is product oriented, it requires scientists with a grasp of the foundations of chemistry, creativity, the ability to work together, and enjoy seeing the practical applications of their work.

It is, however, a very interdisciplinary field, so education in the more traditional areas of physical, organic, inorganic, biological or analytical chemistry, as well as physics and engineering principles, will serve one well to meet the challenges being addressed in the field today. Although most polymer chemists work on applied research and development, there are opportunities for fundamental research mainly in universities and federal laboratories on the theory of polymers in solid and solution states, on the synthesis of new polymer structures, and on the mechanical, electronic, optical, biological, and other properties those new polymers will have.

Fundamental polymer research is inherently interdisciplinary, spanning chemistry, physics, engineering, and even biological aspects. When theory predicts that a new polymer structure will have certain properties, synthetic chemists will devise ways to make the structure, and scientists can measure those properties. Essentially all major areas of chemistry may employ polymer scientists and require an understanding of the fundamentals of macromolecules.

Polymer chemistry is highly practical and used in many industries, including the following. Adhesives are part of everyday life. They have evolved from the early, lower performance glues made from natural products to the versatile high performance adhesives used today. Adhesives are used to produce the multi-layer films used in food packaging to extend shelf life, and they are a critical component of the tamper-proof packages, which ensure the safety of over the counter medicines.

Polymer Chemistry - American Chemical Society

Adhesives may need to be very flexible for use in label and tape applications, or to demonstrate high strength and long-term durability to bond the different metals and composites present in modern automobiles and aircraft. Fuller all work in this field, some globally and others regionally for more specialized applications. Polymers are used in everything from seed coats to enhance germination to containers holding fresh produce in the grocery store; from mulch films to control weeds and conserve water to plastic pots in greenhouses. Sustainable agriculture has evolved to maximize land use and conserve natural resources and polymers, in the form of plastics, help this goal.

However, the increased use of plastics designed for long term usage but used in short-term applications creates a disposal and environmental issue.


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Current research focuses on using natural polymers i. The discovery of electrically conducting conjugated polymers in the late s launched efforts to use polymers in electronic applications. The excellent light harvesting ability of conjugated polymers makes them ideal candidates for use in organic solar cells. The ability to solution process and roll-to-roll print conjugated polymers hold promise for lowering the manufacturing costs of solar cell technology.

Research in this field largely focuses on the design, synthesis and processing of polymeric materials to improve device performances. There are many applications for conjugated polymers beyond solar cells, including light emitting diodes, field-effect transistors and sensors. Electrically conducting conjugated polymers have started to appear in commercial products, and with the promise of improved performance there are many opportunities for this emerging technology. The cultivation of plants has been viewed as the earliest example of biotechnology and the precursor to modern genetic engineering and cell and tissue culture technologies.

Enzymes for synthesis and biodegradation of materials are a growing area of research — using biopolymers to break down organic polymers such as cellulose , to derive renewable basic chemicals or fuels. Companies that work in this area make seeds for crops that are resistant to certain diseases, seed coatings with specific properties, bio-based plastics, and plants that are drought resistant, and include Bayer , Cargill , Dow , DuPont , GenenTech , Metabolix, Monsanto , Myriant , and NatureWorks LLC. The chemical industry is crucial to modern world economies, and works to convert raw materials such as oil, natural gas, air, water, metals, and minerals into more than 70, different products.

These base products are then used to make consumer products, as well as in the manufacturing, service, construction, agriculture, and other industries. Major industries served include rubber and plastic products, textiles, apparel, petroleum refining, pulp and paper, and primary metals. Many coatings that we encounter daily in transportation products cars, trains, planes, etc. In addition to aesthetics, coatings provide vital protection of the object from degradation by environmental factors, such as sunlight, moisture or oxygen.

The chemistry and applications of antimicrobial polymers: a state-of-the-art review.

Steel bridges from the s are still functional today largely because of the polymeric coatings that have protected them from corrosion. Modern medicine relies heavily on recent advances in polymer science. Medical applications of polymer chemistry span seemingly mundane materials such as latex gloves, bandages, and tubing, to applications as advanced as self-tying sutures, implantable medical devices, and artificial joints.

Research in drug delivery is an excellent example of the impact polymer chemistry has had on the medical world: recent advancements allow for targeted delivery of therapeutics directly to tumor tissue using specially designed polymeric nanomaterials. Advancements in biodegradable polymers have created products for use in biomedical engineering applications as scaffolds that support tissue growth, then degrade slowly once implanted in the body.

Additionally, efforts to develop polymers with lower environmental impact for more durable goods are on-going. Many suppliers conduct a complete life cycle analysis, that considers everything from starting materials through final disposal, including impact on the environment and health. Using starting materials, i. For existing synthetic polymers, attempts are made to decrease the use of organic solvents and increase recycling and reuse.

For example, for PET, ethylene glycol produced from natural feedstocks can be used. This thermoplastic can be used in packaging and many other applications. PLA can be composted at its end-of-life, or hydrolyzed to its starting monomers for reuse. Polymers are ideally suited to applications in nanotechnology. The size of an individual polymer molecule can be on the nanometer size scale; by exploiting this feature polymers can be used as nano-sized building blocks to create devices with tiny features that are inaccessible by any other means.

Recent breakthroughs in polymer chemistry permit the synthesis of new materials that can self-assemble into structures with nano-scale order in solution or in the bulk. These advanced materials have promising applications in the fields of nanomedicine, electronics, solar energy, and many more. Materials at the forefront of this field include carbon-based carbon fibers and carbon nanotubes that are used in electrical applications, as conductive adhesives, as high strength materials, as field emitters, in hydrogen and ion storage, as chemical and genetic probes, in solar cells, fibers, catalyst supports, superconductors, fibers and fabrics, energy storage, medical applications, films, nanomotors, elastomers, and many more places.

Explainer: What are polymers?

Polymeric materials are used throughout the entire oil and gas industry value chain, from upstream oil and gas production activities, to midstream, and finally downstream refinery production of fuels and specialty chemicals. They are often used in demanding conditions that include high temperatures, high pressures, and brine. Solid-state polymers include engineering materials such as plastics, fibers, and elastomers for use in oil well sites and off-shore platforms, with applications including construction of structures such as pipelines, proppants in hydraulic fracturing, and as coatings.

Polymeric additives are used in upstream oil production applications as drilling fluids, well stimulants, corrosion inhibitors, scaling inhibitors, and viscosity modifiers.

Polymers: Crash Course Chemistry #45

They are even used as components of cements used in protecting casings downhole. In downstream operations, polymeric additives are used to improve performance features or overcome operational issues in the refinery, distribution systems and storage tanks, and in different fuel transport and combustion applications. Polymers may be used as stand-alone products to resolve specific issues at a refinery, may be combined with other products to create a multi-functional package for use in finished fuels or lubricants for the automotive industry, among other uses.

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Some specific examples of polymeric additives used in downstream applications include synthetic base stocks for lubricants, pipeline drag reducers, cold flow improvers, demulsifiers, deposit control additives, dispersants, friction modifiers, corrosion inhibitors, antifoamants, and viscosity improvers. Rubbers are polymers that when stretched or deformed return to their original or near original shape, and are found in in tires, conveyor belts, hoses, toys, automobile parts, and thousands of other products. Rubber, often a mixture of polymers, has high resistance to heat, moisture, and other materials.


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  • Proteins are natural polymers made up of amino acids, and nucleic acids DNA and RNA are polymers of nucleotides — complex molecules composed of nitrogen-containing bases, sugars and phosphoric acid, for example. His research in the s led the way to modern manipulations of both natural and synthetic polymers. He coined two terms that are key to understanding polymers: polymerization and macromolecules, according to the American Chemical Society ACS. He was awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in "for his discoveries in the field of macromolecular chemistry.

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    Polymerization is the method of creating synthetic polymers by combining smaller molecules , called monomers, into a chain held together by covalent bonds, according to ThoughtCo. Various chemical reactions — those caused by heat and pressure, for example — alter the chemical bonds that hold monomers together, according to Scientific American. The process causes the molecules to bond in a linear, branched or network structure, resulting in polymers.

    These chains of monomers are also called macromolecules. Most polymer chains have a string of carbon atoms as a backbone. A single macromolecule can consist of hundreds of thousands of monomers , according to the Polymer Science Learning Center. Polymers are used in almost every area of modern living. Grocery bags, soda and water bottles, textile fibers, phones, computers, food packaging, auto parts, and toys all contain polymers.

    Even more-sophisticated technology uses polymers. For example, "the membranes for water desalination, carriers used in controlled drug release and biopolymers for tissue engineering all use polymers," according to the ACS. Popular polymers for manufacturing include polyethylene and polypropylene. Their molecules can consist of 10, to , monomers. Researchers are experimenting with many different types of polymers, aiming to further medicine development and enhance products we already use.

    The Chemistry of Polymers The Chemistry of Polymers
    The Chemistry of Polymers The Chemistry of Polymers
    The Chemistry of Polymers The Chemistry of Polymers
    The Chemistry of Polymers The Chemistry of Polymers
    The Chemistry of Polymers The Chemistry of Polymers

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