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Monomers and Polymers

Introduction to Monomers and Polymers

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Polymer balls can be quite beautiful.

Polymers include the sodium polyacrylate used to make these polymer balls, plus many other natural and synthetic materials.

Anne Helmenstine Skeletal diagram of cellulose, a polysaccharide biopolymer consisting of linked glucose subunits.

Skeletal diagram of cellulose, a polysaccharide biopolymer consisting of linked glucose subunits.

David Richfield
Monomers are the building blocks of more complex molecules, called polymers. Polymers consist of repeating molecular units which usually are joined by covalent bonds. Here is a closer look at the chemistry of monomers and polymers.

Monomers

Monomers are small molecules which may be joined together in a repeating fashion to form more complex molecules called polymers.

Polymers

A polymer may be a natural or synthetic macromolecule comprised of repeating units of a smaller molecule (monomers). While many people use the term 'polymer' and 'plastic' interchangeably, polymers are a much larger class of molecules which includes plastics, plus many other materials, such as as cellulose, amber, and natural rubber.

Examples of Polymers

Examples of polymers include plastics such as polyethylene, silicones such as silly putty, biopolymers such as cellulose and DNA, natural polymers such as rubber and shellac, and many other important macromolecules.

How Polymers Form

Polymerization is the process of covalently bonding the smaller monomers into the polymer. During polymerization, chemical groups are lost from the monomers so that they may join together. In the case of biopolymers, this is a dehydration reaction in which water is formed.

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