Polymers explained from home use to industry
Explaining polymers for someone outside science fields may be a tricky. In essence, it is a material made of multiple units. But doesn’t that mean that a polymer may be virtually anything?
Technically, yes. Polymers are both natural and synthetic. They can be flexible and solid.
Your muscles are polymers.
Your DNA is polymers.
Your new fidgets you just ordered on Amazon are probably polymer.
That’s what makes them tricky to explain. If it’s almost everything, but not everything then what is it?
— Science (@scienmag) September 25, 2017
Use for polymers is everywhere
Perhaps, the better question is not what a polymer is but what can you do with it. I have always been a strong believer that practice is much more powerful than theory, although, at least a basic level of both is necessary.
So, at home you can take polymer clay and make new fidgets of no worse quality that you can buy in the store. Instructables.com have a pretty easy-to-understand guide on how to make a glow-in-the-dark fidget spinner.
On a much larger scale, polymers allow scientists to explore virtually unlimited possibilities and create new types of material. You see, due to the fact that polymers can connect in many shapes, you can get strong, solid materials as well as flexible. For instance, new type of polymers have been recently used in UK’s new 5 and 10 pound notes.
Not only that, but developing materials allows giving them special traits like making them easily recyclable. That means that already somewhere in a lab, deep in the U.S. or Switzerland scientists have developed a material that is equal in its strength and flexibility to a spider web, which, of course, is known for its unique traits.
Asia-dominated polymer industry is ever-growing and will be key in reducing the cost as well as expanding the capabilities of 3D home printing and many other industries including but not limited to water treatment, already-mentioned more secure and durable currency, coatings and automotive industry. There is no doubt that the most prominent industry for polymers is warfare. Can you just imagine how a lightweight, but titan-strong materials couples with current advances in robotics could change today’s wars? How many innocent lives could be saved?
If you want to try working with polymers, I would suggest that the easiest way is to get some polymer clay from Amazon (which you can get 1.5 pounds of for about $10). You can form it in any way you want and then you bake it to make it a solid material.
Don’t know where to start? Look at what other people are experimenting with. It’s always a good way to start whether you got some polymer clay, a Raspberry PI or anything else.
Here is the last thing I wanted to say. Science gets more interesting the deeper you dig. If you have any questions, drop me a line!