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Polymer science

Polymer science or macromolecular science is the subfield of materials science concerned with polymers, primarily synthetic polymers such as plastics. The field of polymer science includes researchers in multiple disciplines including chemistry, physics, and engineering.

This science comprises two main sub-disciplines:

  • Polymer chemistry or macromolecular chemistry, concerned with the chemical synthesis and chemical properties of polymers.
  • Polymer physics, concerned with the bulk properties of polymer materials and engineering applications.


History of polymer science

Henri Braconnot's work in the 1830s is perhaps the first modern example of polymer science. Braconnot, along with Christian Schönbein and others, developed derivatives of the natural polymer cellulose producing new, semi-synthetic materials, such as celluloid and cellulose acetate. The term "polymer" was coined in 1833 by Jöns Jakob Berzelius, though Berzelius did little that would be considered polymer science in the modern sense. In the 1840s, Friedrich Ludersdorf and Nathaniel Hayward independently discovered that adding sulfur to raw natural rubber (polyisoprene) helped prevent the material from becoming sticky. In 1844 Charles Goodyear received a U.S. patent for vulcanizing rubber with sulfur and heat. Thomas Hancock had received a patent for the same process in the UK the year before. Vulcanized rubber represents the first commercially successful product of polymer research. In 1884 Hilaire de Chardonnet started the first artificial fiber plant based on regenerated cellulose, or viscose rayon, as a substitute for silk, but it was very flammable.[1] In 1907 Leo Baekeland invented the first synthetic polymer, a thermosetting phenol-formaldehyde resin called Bakelite.

Despite significant advances in polymer synthesis, the molecular nature of the polymer was not understood until the work of Hermann Staudinger in 1922. Prior to Staudinger's work, polymers were understood in terms of the assocation theory or aggregate theory which originated with Thomas Graham in 1861. Graham proposed that cellulose and other polymers were "colloids", aggregates of molecules small molecular mass connected by an unknown intermolecular force. Hermann Staudinger was the first to propose that polymers consisted of long chains of atoms held together by covalent bonds. It took over a decade for Staudinger's work to gain wide acceptance in the scientific community, work for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1953.

The World War II era marked the emergence of a strong commercial polymer industry.[citation needed] The limited or restricted supply of natural materials such as silk and latex necessitated the increased production of synthetic substitutes, such as rayon and neoprene. In the intervening years, the development of advanced polymers such as Kevlar and Teflon have continued to fuel a strong and growing polymer industry.

The growth in industrial applications was mirrored by the establishment of strong academic programs and research institute. In 1946, Herman Mark established the Polymer Research Institute at Brooklyn Polytechnic, the first research facility in the United States dedicated to polymer research. Mark is also recognized as a pioneer in establishing curriculum and pedagogy for the field of polymer science.[2] In 1950, the POLY division of the American Chemical Society was formed, and has since grown to the second-largest division in this association with nearly 8,000 members.

Polymer Engineering

Polymer engineering is generally an engineering field that designs, analyses, and/or modifies polymer materials. Polymer engineering covers aspects of petrochemical industry, polymerization, structure and characterization of polymers, behavior of polymers, compounding and processing of polymers and description of major polymers structure properties and utilization. Besides that, depending on university's classification of the particular engineering field, the course offered may often gives additional knowledge, for example engineering material analysis if the course is put under material engineering. Thermodynamic analysis and industrial control processes may be covered if the course is more chemical engineering based. Polymer engineers often work in various industries such as IT, computing, automotive, production, medical and aerospace.

Nobel prizes related to polymer science

2005 (Chemistry) Robert Grubbs, Richard Schrock, Yves Chauvin for olefin metathesis

2000 (Chemistry) Alan G. MacDiarmid, Alan J. Heeger, and Hideki Shirakawa for work on electroactive polymers contributing to the advent of molecular electronics

1991 (Physics) Pierre-Gilles de Gennes for developing a generalized theory of phase transitions with particular applications to describing ordering and phase transitions in polymers.

1974 (Chemistry) Paul J. Flory for contributions to theoretical polymer chemistry.

1963 (Chemistry) Giulio Natta and Karl Ziegler for contributions in polymer synthesis. (Ziegler-Natta catalysis).

1953 (Chemistry) Hermann Staudinger for contributions to the understanding of macromolecular chemistry.


  1. ^ plastiquarian
  2. ^ Polymer Research Institute. National Historical Chemical Landmarks. Retrieved on 2007-11-07.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Polymer_science". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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