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The amazing problem-solving Power of Polymers

Polymers, manmade and natural materials made from huge molecules, are today offering big advantages over most other substances known to man. Indeed, their performance promises to change modern industry and all fields reliant on new technologies.

Polymer science is a young discipline, mainly gaining ground only after World War II. During the war when materials like rubber produced in Brazil and Malaysia, were cut off to Allied and Axis forces, scientists worked round the clock to develop synthetic substitutes. Allied researchers worked furiously to come up with replacements for elastic and polyester, while Germans worked on substances like polyurethane.

"That's when the study of polymers really exploded. Soon polymers became a full-fledged science, one in which students can earn degrees."

Polymers react dramatically different under varying conditions than other known materials, a fact that surprised early researchers. "Scientists couldn't use knowledge found in organic sciences to explain these unorthodox reactions; for instance, chemists know that if metals are heated they expand. In lower temperatures, such metals shrink. with polymers, the relationship is reversed. They shrink when heat is applied to them."


Polymers provide new materials tailor-made to solve specific problems

Natural or synthetic polymers are molecularly much larger than other materials. Their molecular weight ranges from 100,000 to one million, meaning they contain at least 10,000 atoms. Other substances typically have molecular weights of 200 to 300, containing less than 25 atoms.

Polymers are high in viscosity, meaning they are not very fluid. "Any substance with a high molecular weight (built from very large molecules) has high viscosity, making it very immobile," notes Dr. H. James Harwood, head of the Polymer Science Department of the University of Akron. "To reduce viscosity and allow these polymers to flow more rapidly so we mold them into fibers, we apply heat."

More important than their molecular structure or weight, polymers give industrialists new materials tailor made to solve specific problems. "If you need flexibility, you can have it. "If you need rigidity, you can have it. If you want heat resistance, you can have that too."

In situ polymers are the product of two to three components, combined to achieve a predetermined result. The components may be liquids or pastes that provide no utility once separated. However, together their molecules create a certain polymerization reaction. Creating an insitu polymer is like creating a robot with molecules.


Using polymers, equipment can be repaired in a shorter time and less expensively

When metal fillers are added to polymers, new metals are created. When ceramic fillers are added, new ceramics are available. Such possibilities were not within people's reach 30 years ago. Using these materials, industrial equipment that breaks can be repaired in much shorter time spans and far less expensively. Before polymers were discovered, such equipment was too expensive to replace, traditional welding, requiring layer upon layer of molten metal and a great deal of energy and expense, was the only other alternative.

In many cases, replacement parts are simply unavailable. Either they are no longer manufactured or the damaged equipment is located on an isolated site far from any repair facilities. The owner of the equipment might have to shut down his business if his latest machines cannot be repaired on a timely basis. In these situations, companies can lose millions in profits.

Instead, with the advent of polymers, the company foreman can mix the appropriate solution and repair the broken metal on the job site, expedite the curing process using a heat lamp and be back in business the same day.


Silicone, Semiconductors and Packaging Materials are all Polymer-based

"In the electronics field and other industries, time may be silver or bronze, but in heavy industry, time is golden. "When a major manufacturing plant breaks down, virtually all their day-to-day business comes to a screeching halt. That's why we specialize in the production of polymer/ceramic composites and polymer/metal composites for heavy industrial concerns.

Most computer industry developments are based on both organic and inorganic polymers. Silicon, semiconductors and packaging materials are all polymer based.

Polymers are found in every facet of modern life. "Even our hair, skin and nails are comprised of polymers. These materials are used in our foods, to thicken substances like ketchup and to replace meat in various soy spin-offs. They're used in computers, medicine, space and in the US Air Force's new, top secrete Stealth aircraft, It's accurate to say that polymer science is a limitless field."