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A polymer is a large molecule (macromolecule) composed of repeating structural units. These units are typically interconnected by covalent chemical bonds. Although the term polymer is referred to plastics, it actually encompasses a large class of natural and synthetic materials with a wide variety of properties.
Natural polymeric materials such as shellac, amber and natural rubber have been used for centuries. Another natural polymer is cellulose which is the main constituent of wood and paper.
The list of synthetic polymers include synthetic rubber, bakelite, neoprene, nylon, PVC, polystyrene, polyethylene, polypropylene, polyacrylonitrile, silicone etc.


The word polymer is derived from the Greek word poly meaning many and meros meaning part. The term was coined by John Jacob Berzelius (1833) to describe organic compounds that shared identical empirical formulas but differed in overall molecular weight, i.e. smaller units, described as ‘polymers’ of the smallest, combine together to form larger units. According to this (now obsolete) definition, glucose (C6H12O6) would be a polymer of formaldehyde (CH2O).


A polymer is a long, repeating chain of atoms formed through the linkage of many molecules called monomers. In other words, monomers are the simple compounds which build up the polymer molecule. The monomers can be identical, or they can have one or more substituted chemical groups. A key feature that distinguishes polymers from other large molecules is the repetition of units (monomers) in their chains. For example, the formation of polyethene involves thousands of ethene molecules bonding together to form a chain of repeating –CH2 units.


Polymerisation is a chemical process that combines several monomers to form a polymer or polymeric compound.
Homopolymer: It is a polymer which is formed from only one type of monomer.
Copolymer: It contains at least two monomers.
Heteropolymer: It is also called a copolymer and is formed when two (or more) different types of monomer are linked in the same polymer chain.
Polymers are classified as shown in the tree diagram of Figure 10.1.



The differences between addition and condensation polymerisations are given in Table

Table Differences Between Addition Polymerisation and Condensation Polymerisation

Addition Polymerisation

Condensation Polymerisation

Formed by an addition reaction wherein two or more molecules combine to form a single product

Formed by condensation reaction wherein two
molecules or functional groups combine to form one single molecule together with the loss of a small molecule (e.g. HCl, CH3OH, NH3, H2O etc.)

Monomers used are of the same type

Monomers are of different types

Monomers should possess a site of unsaturation

Monomers must have reactive groups on both ends


Shows the polymers derived from their respective monomers and their uses.


Table Polymers, Their Monomers and Their Uses





Addition Polymers

Ethene (ethylene),

CH2 = CH2


(polythene or polyethylene)

• Low-density
polyethene (LDPE) for sandwich wrap.

• High-density
polyethene (HDPE) for water pipes, wire insulation.

Propene (propylene),


Polypropene (polypropylene)

• Electrical appliances automotive
ropes, carpets, films


Chloroethene (vinyl chloride),

CH2 = CHCl

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)


• Underground PVC water pipes, indoor electrical cables


CF2 = CF2

(polytetrafluoro ethylene, Teflon)


• Insulation of wires, motors, generators etc.

• Anti-stick application in cookware, bearings

Styrene (vinyl benzene),



• Heat and electrical insulation, pipes

Acrylonitrile (vinyl cyanide),



• Stronger acrylic fibres

Vinyl acetate, 

Polyvinylacetate (PVA)


• Adhesives, paints

CH2 = CCl – CH = CH2



• Laptop sleeves, 
orthopaedic braces, electrical insulation

Condensation Polymers

Adipic acid,
HOOC – (CH2)4 – COOH

Hexamethylene diamine, 
H2N – (CH2)6 – NH2

Nylon-6, 6


• Carpet fibres, apparel, airbags

• Tyres, ropes, conveyor belts, hoses

CH2Cl – CH2Cl

Sodium tetrasulphide, 



• Hoses and tank linings for the handling and storage of oils and solvents

• Lining of vessels used in the manufacture of chemicals

• Engine gaskets

• Fuel in rocket engines

Benzene-1,4-dicarboxylic acid,


• All kinds of clothes and home furnishings

• High strength ropes, threads, hoses, sails, floppy discs, liners, power belting etc.

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