What are Polymers?
A polymer is a large molecule or a macromolecule which essentially is a combination of many subunits. The term polymer in Greek means ‘many parts’. Polymers can be found all around us. From the strand of our DNA, which is a naturally occurring biopolymer, to polypropylene which is used throughout the world as plastic.
Polymers may be naturally found in plants and animals (natural polymers) or may be man-made (synthetic polymers). Different polymers have a number of unique physical and chemical properties, due to which they find usage in everyday life.
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Table of Content
- Classification of Polymers
- Polymers and their Monomers
- Polymerization Reactions
- Molecular Mass of Polymers
- Uses of Polymers
Polymers are all created by the process of polymerization wherein their constituent elements, called monomers, are reacted together to form polymer chains, i.e., 3-dimensional networks forming the polymer bonds.
The type of polymerization mechanism used depends on the type of functional groups attached to the reactants. In the biological context, almost all macromolecules are either completely polymeric or are made up of large polymeric chains.
Classification of Polymers
Polymers cannot be classified under one category because of their complex structures, different behaviours and vast applications. We can, therefore, classify polymers based on the following considerations.
Classification of Polymers based on the Source of Availability
There are three types of classification under this category, namely, Natural, Synthetic, and Semi-synthetic Polymers.
They occur naturally and are found in plants and animals. For example, proteins, starch, cellulose, and rubber. To add up, we also have biodegradable polymers called biopolymers.
They are derived from naturally occurring polymers and undergo further chemical modification. For example, cellulose nitrate, and cellulose acetate.
These are man-made polymers. Plastic is the most common and widely used synthetic polymer. It is used in industries and various dairy products. For example, nylon-6, 6, polyether’s etc.
Also Read: Natural Polymers vs Synthetic Polymers
Classification of Polymers based on the Structure of the Monomer Chain
This category has the following classifications:
The structure of polymers containing long and straight chains falls into this category. PVC, i.e. poly-vinyl chloride, is largely used for making pipes and electric cables is an example of a linear polymer.
When linear chains of a polymer form branches, then such polymers are categorized as branched chain polymers. For example, Low-density polythene.
They are composed of bifunctional and trifunctional monomers. They have a stronger covalent bond in comparison to other linear polymers. Bakelite and melamine are examples in this category.
Other Ways to Classify Polymers
Classification Based on Polymerization
- Addition Polymerization: For Example, poly ethane, Teflon, Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
- Condensation Polymerization: Example, Nylon -6, 6, perylene, polyesters.
Classification Based on Monomers
- Homomer: In this type, a single type of monomer unit is present. For example, Polyethene
- Heteropolymer or co-polymer: It consists of different types of monomer units. For example, nylon -6, 6
Classification Based on Molecular Forces
- Elastomers: These are rubber-like solids weak interaction forces are present. For example, Rubber.
- Fibres: Strong, tough, high tensile strength and strong forces of interaction are present. For example, nylon -6, 6.
- Thermoplastics: These have intermediate forces of attraction. For example, polyvinyl chloride.
- Thermosetting polymers: These polymers greatly improve the material’s mechanical properties. It provides enhanced chemical and heat resistance. For example, phenolics, epoxies, and silicones.
Structure of Polymers
Most of the polymers around us are made up of a hydrocarbon backbone. A Hydrocarbon backbone is a long chain of linked carbon and hydrogen atoms, possible due to the tetravalent nature of carbon.
A few examples of a hydrocarbon backbone polymer are polypropylene, polybutylene, and polystyrene. Also, there are polymers which, instead of carbon, have other elements in their backbone. For example, Nylon, contains nitrogen atoms in the repeated unit backbone.
Types of Polymers
On the basis of the type of the backbone chain, polymers can be divided into:
- Organic Polymers: Carbon backbone.
- Inorganic Polymers: Backbone constituted by elements other than carbon.
On the basis of their synthesis:
The polymers which are degraded and decayed by microorganisms like bacteria are known as biodegradable polymers. These types of polymers are used in surgical bandages, capsule coatings and in surgery. For example, Poly hydroxybutyrate co vel [PHBV]
These polymers are stable at high temperatures. Due to their high molecular weight, these are not destroyed even at very high temperatures. They are extensively used in the healthcare industries, for making sterilization equipment and in the manufacturing of heat and shock-resistant objects.
Few of the important polymers are:
Polypropylene: It is a type of polymer that softens beyond a specific temperature allowing it to be moulded, and on cooling, it solidifies. Due to its ability to be easily moulded into various shapes, it has a lot of applications.
A few of which are in stationary equipment’s, automotive components, reusable container speakers and much more. Due to its relatively low energy surface, the polymer is fused with the welding process and not using glue.
Polyethene: It is the most common type of plastic found around us. Mostly used in packaging from plastic bags to plastic bottles. There are different types of polyethene, but their common formula is (C2H4)n.
Properties of Polymers
- As chain length and cross-linking increase, the tensile strength of the polymer increases.
- Polymers do not melt, and they change state from crystalline to semi-crystalline.
- Compared to conventional molecules with different side molecules, the polymer is enabled by hydrogen bonding and ionic bonding resulting in better cross-linking strength.
- Dipole-dipole bonding side chains enable the polymer for high flexibility.
- Polymers with Van der Waals forces linking chains are known to be weak but give the polymer a low melting point.
- Due to their ability to change their refractive index with temperature, as in the case of PMMA and HEMA: MMA, they are used in lasers for applications in spectroscopy and analytical applications.
Some Polymers and their Monomers
- Polypropene, also known as polypropylene, is made up of monomer propene.
- Polystyrene is an aromatic polymer, naturally transparent, made up of monomer styrene.
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a plastic polymer made of monomer vinyl chloride.
- The urea-formaldehyde resin is a non-transparent plastic obtained by heating formaldehyde and urea.
- Glyptal is made up of monomers ethylene glycol and phthalic acid.
- Bakelite or polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride is a plastic which is made up of monomers phenol and aldehyde.
Types of Polymerization Reactions
This is also called as chain growth polymerization. In this, small monomer units join to form a giant polymer. In each step, the length of the chain increases. For example, Polymerization of ethane in the presence of Peroxides
In this type small molecules like H2O, CO, NH3 are eliminated during polymerization (step growth polymerization). Generally, organic compounds containing bifunctional groups such as idols, -dials, diamines, dicarboxylic acids undergo this type of polymerization reaction. For example, Preparation of nylon -6, 6.
What is Copolymerization?
How to Calculate Molecular Mass of Polymers?
There are two types of average molecular masses of Polymers:
- Number Average Molecular Masses
- Weight Average Molecular Mass
Number Average Molecular Masses:
If N1, N2, N3…. are the number of macromolecular with molecular masses. M1, M2, M3….. , respectively then the number average molecular masses of the polymer is given by
The number average molecular mass
Weight Average Molecular Mass:
If m1, m2, m3…. Are the masses of a macromolecule with molecular masses M1, M2, M3…, respectively, then weight average molecular mass of the polymer is given by
Polydispersive index: It is the ratio of weight average molecular mass and the number average molecular mass of Polymers.
Uses of Polymers
Here we will list some of the important uses of polymers in our everyday life.
- Polypropene finds usage in a broad range of industries such as textiles, packaging, stationery, plastics, aircraft, construction, rope, toys, etc.
- Polystyrene is one of the most common plastic actively used in the packaging industry. Bottles, toys, containers, trays, disposable glasses and plates, tv cabinets and lids are some of the daily-used products made up of polystyrene. It is also used as an insulator.
- The most important use of polyvinyl chloride is the manufacture of sewage pipes. It is also used as an insulator in electric cables.
- Polyvinyl chloride is used in clothing and furniture and has recently become popular for the construction of doors and windows as well. It is also used in vinyl flooring.
- Urea-formaldehyde resins are used for making adhesives, moulds, laminated sheets, unbreakable containers, etc.
- Glyptal is used for making paints, coatings, and lacquers.
- Bakelite is used for making electrical switches, kitchen products, toys, jewellery, firearms, insulators, computer discs, etc.
Commercial Uses of Polymers
|Polymer||Monomer||Uses of Polymer|
|Rubber||Isoprene (1, 2-methyl 1 – 1, 3-butadiene)||Making tyres, elastic materials|
|BUNA – S||(a) 1, 3-butadiene (b) Styrene||Synthetic rubber|
|BUNA – N||(a) 1, 3-butadiene (b) Vinyl Cyanide||Synthetic rubber|
|Teflon||Tetra Fluoro Ethane||Non-stick cookware – plastics|
|Terylene||(a) Ethylene glycol (b) Terephthalic acid||Fabric|
|Glyptal||(a) Ethylene glycol (b) Phthalic acid||Fabric|
|Bakelite||(a) Phenol (b) Formaldehyde||Plastic switches, Mugs, buckets|
|PVC||Vinyl Cyanide||Tubes, Pipes|
|Melamine Formaldehyde Resin||(a) Melamine (b) Formaldehyde||Ceramic plastic material|
FAQs on Polymers
How do polymers have different physical properties? Give examples.
In polymers, monomers are bonded by different molecular interactions. The nature of these interactions yields polymers of varying elasticity, tensile strength, toughness, thermal stability, etc.
- Monomers form a linear chain with weak bonding. These polymers exhibit elasticity and are called elastomers. Example: Neoprene, Buna-S, Buna-R.
- Polymers with strong forces of interaction between the monomer in both linear and between the chains have higher tensile strength and are used as fibres. Example: Polyamides (nylon6,6), polyesters(terylene).
- Polymers having their intermolecular force in between the elastomers and fibres are thermoplastics. They can be repeatedly reprocessed without much change in their polymeric properties. Example: Polythene, polyvinyl.
- Monomers that undergo heavy branching get fused on heating and cannot be reused or reprocessed. Such materials are thermosetting plastics. Bakelite, Urea-formaldehyde are examples.
What is the vulcanization of rubber?
Natural rubber is highly elastic to be of poor physical stability. Adding 5% of sulphur enhances the crosslinking of the linear chains and thus, improves the stiffening of the rubber for an application like vehicle tires.
Match the column A with B.
|Column A||Column B|
|1||Buna -S||a||Ziegler Natta catalyst|
|2||Nylon 6-6||b||Addition polymerization|
|3||High-density polyethene||c||Terephthalic acid ethylene glycol|
|5||Polymer of glycine and aminocaproic acid||e||Fibre|
|Column A||Column B|
|1||Buna -S||a||Addition polymerization|
|3||High-density polyethene||c||Ziegler Natta catalyst|
|5||Polymer of glycine and aminocaproic acid||e||Biodegradable polymer|
What are biodegradable polymers? Give examples.
These polymers have functional groups found in the natural polymers. Example: Poly β-hydroxybutyrate -co-β-hydroxy valerate (PHBV). This can be degraded by bacterial presence.
What do you mean by Engineering plastics and synthetic metal?
These polymers possess high strength and resistance to chemical, thermal, and abrasion, similar to ceramics and metals for use in engineering applications. Examples: Silicone, Polycarbonate, ABS, and Polysulfone.
The polymer that is similar to the metal in terms of its electrical, electronic, magnetic, and optical properties is termed as ‘intrinsically conducting polymer (ICP)’ or ‘synthetic metal’.
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