A polymer is a molecule made of many other molecules strung together. The way polymers act depends on what kinds of molecules they are made of and the way they are constructed. Things that are made of polymers look, feel, and act depending on how their atoms and molecules are connected, as well as which ones used in the first place. The word “poly” means “many,” and the word “mer” means “section” or “segment.” The word “monomer” means “one segment” which means many monomers can bond to another to form a large polymer. A typical polymer molecule is made of hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions of monomers. Polymers can also be referred to as “macromolecules,” the word “macro” meaning large.
There are many different types of polymers. The most common polymer is the Linear Polymer, which is a polymer made of one molecule after another. Although the term says “linear” it doesn’t necessarily mean the polymer is in a straight line. Polymers can extend into different branches while linear polymers can curve as long as they don’t branch out.
A Branched Polymer is a polymer that can have more than one beginning, unlike the linear polymer. The atoms that make up the backbone (original chain) of a polymer chain come in a regular order which repeats itself all along the length of the polymer chain.
Polymers can be found in various places seen every day such as in starches, rubber, cellulose, exoskeletons of crustaceans, and proteins. These kinds of polymers are known as “natural polymers.” Starch is a polymer made by plants to store energy which means plants need energy to grow. These plants use energy from sunlight to make glucose, which is then used to make starch.
Other types of polymers are synthetic polymers and polymers that can stretch and bend such as polyester and silicone. Some examples of synthetic polymers are nylon; which is a synthetic type of silk, aramids; a type of nylon used for bullet proof vests, and polycarbonate.
Starting in 1811 Henri Braconnot did investigative work in cellulose compounds, which could be the earliest important work in polymer science. The term polymer developed in 1833 by Jns Jakob Berzelius, a Swedish chemist. The development of vulcanization (a chemical process in which polymer molecules are linked to other polymer molecules by atomic bridges composed of sulfur atoms or carbon to carbon bonds) in the late nineteenth century improved the durability of the natural polymer rubber, signifying the first popularized semi-synthetic polymer. The first completely synthetic polymer, Bakelite, was introduced in 1909.