Polymer Chemistry

David M. Collard and Marcus Weck (Georgia Institute of Technology)


Georgia Institute of Technology

Atlanta, GA


The aims of this workshop are to provide: (i) examples of how polymers can be used throughout the chemistry curriculum, (ii) an understanding of polymer structure, and (iii) illustrations of how polymers impact society. The workshop is divided into discussion sessions in the morning, with hands-on exercises in the afternoon. In addition to class notes, participants will receive a copy of "Chain Gang - The Chemistry of Polymers" (M. Sarquis, ed.; Terrific Science Press; 1995).

Day 1: Discussion . Introduction to Polymers: History, Molecular Structure. The discussion of polymer structure: primary structure, stereochemistry (tacticity) and chain architecture.

Day 2: Discussion. Step Growth Polymerization. The chemistry of step growth polymerizations (nylons, polyesters, polyurethanes): Organic (structures, mechanisms), physical (kinetics), and biochemistry (peptides, carbohydrates, DNA, and biochemically-derived polyesters).

Day 3: Discussion . Chain Growth Polymerization. The organic chemistry, physical chemistry and biochemistry (natural rubber) of chain growth polymerizations, including discussion of commodity plastics (polyethylene, polypropylene, PVC, polystyrene).

Day 4: A series of lectures. Molecular Weight: Distributions, Determination. Effect of polymerization conditions and determination of molecular weights (viscometry, gel permeation chromatography, osmometry, light scattering)? Recent Advances: Conjugated Polymers. A discussion of how polymers with extensive conjugation along the backbone conduct electricity, and the potential for these materials in numerous applications (sensors, displays, electrical devices). Recent Advances: New Macromolecular Architectures. Discussion of dendrimers and dendron-substituted polymers, networks, "hairy rod" polymers, amphiphilic and hydrogen-bonded polymers.

Day 5: Three lectures. Recent Advances in Polymerization Catalysts, A Detailed Case Study: Polyester; and A Place for Polymers in the Curriculum.


Participants will rotate though laboratory exercises. In addition, they will be able to try out a number of demonstrations from the lecture sessions.

Experiment 1 - Phase Changes in Polymers: Thermal Analysis. The experiment begins with a simple experiment in which pellets of commercial polyester are heated in an oil bath and progresses to use of a differential scanning calorimeter.

Experiment 2 - Step Growth Polymerizations. Demonstration of the thermal polymerization of PET. Step growth polymerizations which are amenable for incorporation in the teaching laboratory include the nylon rope "trick" and polyurethane foams.

Experiment 3 - Chain Growth Polymerizations. Radical polymerization of styrene, determination of the effect of initiator concentration on molecular weight.

Experiment 4 - Polymer Structure: Chemical Analysis, Spectroscopy and Viscometry. Poly(vinyl alcohol) is prepared by polymerization of vinyl acetate followed by hydrolysis. Analysis includes determination of the number of head-to-head linkages.