Polymers: how many is “many”?

Today we had a really fun chemistry lesson on polymers.  We learned polymers are both naturally occurring and man made, for example starches (pasta, potatoes), cellulose (wood, plants), plastics, fabrics both natural (cotton, wool) and manufactured (rayon, nylon), and proteins. Polymers are a type of molecule made of linked chains of individual units, or monomers. Students saw how monomers form chains to create polymers, and that chains of polymers can be cross-linked together to change their physical properties. As an experiment we took an existing polymer found in Elmer’s school-type white glue, or polyvinyl acetate, and mixed it with a cross-link solution, sodium borate (Borax). The result was dramatic! The slimy, sticky glue changed into a rubbery, dry substance that could be stretched, formed into a ball, broken sharply apart, and bounced. We call this material “Glubber,” and it is easy and safe to make at home under adult supervision.

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