A monomer is a molecule that can join with other molecules to form a chain of molecules. A chain of monomers (or molecules) is called a polymer. 

Chains of polymers then bond or stick together to form stuff like cellulose, the woody stuff in plants.

Natural polymers are created as part of ongoing biological processes.

Read more about monomers and polymers here.


However polymers can be made, by wo/men in labs, chemists. Here they create synthetic polymers and stick them together to create a huge range of products.

Some may copy the polymers found in nature but others, like plastic, are completely new – they have no natural equivalent.

The process of making polymers is called polymerisation.

 Most synthetic polymers that we use today are made from hydrocarbons derived from oil.

However as oil becomes more scarce and more expensive, synthetic polymers are being derived from all manner of substances including corn, potatoes and even chicken feathers.

Fun Quote

“nature has been knitting polymers since the beginning of life. Every living organism contains these molecular daisy chains. The cellulose that makes up the cell walls in plants is a polymer. So are the proteins that make up our muscles and our skin and the long spiraling ladders that hold our genetic destiny, DNA. Whether a polymer is natural or synthetic, chances are its backbone is composed of carbon, a strong, stable, glad-handing atom that is ideally suited to forming molecular bonds. Other elements—typically oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen—frequently join that carbon spine, and the choice and arrangement of those atoms produces specific varieties of polymers. Bring chlorine into that molecular conga line, and you can get polyvinyl chloride, otherwise known as vinyl; tag on fluorine, and you can wind up with that slick nonstick material Teflon.”

An excerpt from Susan Freinkel‘s book, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story.





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