Polymer Chemistry Glossary

Not to be confused with adsorption, absorption is one substance is taken up into the interior of another - adsorption with a 'd' is entirely a surface effect. Examples are the swelling of a poly(acrylamide) polymer with aqueous solution (in a disposable nappy) or the dissolution of carbon dioxide in seawater (one of the possible antidotes to global warming that crops up in models of world climate.

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Oops, I should have used the systematic name, ethanal! This is a good example of a case where the IUPAC system may be logical, but can easily engender no end of confusion.
Ethanol and ethanal are very differnt:

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There are three definitions - Arrhenius, Bronsted, and Lewis Acids. In the Lewis conception, which is the most general and useful, an acid is essentially any compound that needs electrons, and a base is basically any compound that wants to give them away.

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Acid anhydride
Take two carboxylic acid molecules - for example, salicylic acid - and remove water to give a molecule containing a -(C=O)-O-(C=O)- link - this molecule will be an acid anhydride. For example: ethanoic anhydride:

ethanoic anhydride (a.k.a acetic anhydride)

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Acid chloride
Take a carboxylic acid and replace the OH group with a Chlorine atom. What you now have is an acid chloride. Acid chlorides react readily with water to regenerate carboxylic acid + HCl. For example, ethanoyl chloride:

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Forming or containing an acid.

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A common monomer used in free-radical polymerisation. Here is a picture:

Acrylonitrile is one of the more toxic monomers, and is a proven carcinogen; one of its main applications is in the production of carbon fibres.

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Active Centre
In chain-growth polymerisation, the highly-reactive spot on the growing polymer chain where new monomer is added. The four most common types are a free-radical (atom with an unpaired electron), carbanion (carbon-centred negative ion), carbocation (carbon-centred positive ion) or a metal complex (as in Ziegler-Natta polymerisation).

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Addition Polymerisation
Also known as chain-growth polymerisation. The mechanism in which large numbers of usually identical small molecules are joined together to rapidly form a single large molecule. This involves the addition of reactive centre (anion, cation, or unpaired electron) to a multiple bond to form a new bond and a new reactive centre - which reacts with another multiple bond, et cetera... The finished chain then hangs around without reacting while more of the starting material reacts to form new polymer chains.

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Not to be confused with absorption, adsorption is the build up of a molecule at a surface (such as an oil/water interface). Adsorption generally occurs because different parts of a molecule have an affinity for the two different phase on either side of the interface.

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We thought we would put this in because we have met people from New Zealand who didn't know what they were and understand that there are a few New Zealanders in New South Wales. Akubras are a kind of you beaut hat that all real Ostrayans (e.g., Greg Norman) wear.

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"Any chemical compound where the hydroxy functional group -O-H is bound to an carbon skeleton. You are probably most familiar with the diols (compounds with two hydroxy groups), which are used in the manufacture of polyesters, and the phenols, where an hydroxy group is bound to an arene.
A commonly used diol is 1,2-ethanediol, while fulvic acid is a common environmental phenol:

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Any chemical compound containing the functional group -C(O)H. Acrolein, the simplest aldehyde that is also a monomer capable of undergoing addition polymerisation, is responsible for the distinctive smell of burning fat. Here is a picture:

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Alfred Nobel
A Swedish inventor, businessman and famous posthumous philanthropist (1833-1896). He developed the mercury percussion detonator (1863) and numerous other advances in explosives technology to make blasting safer and easier. He made a lot of money, which he left in his will to provide prizes for people whose work had been of great benefit to humanity, and economists. See Nobel Prize.

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Forming or containing an alkali, and by extension, any base. Strictly speaking, an alkali is the hydroxide or carbonate salt of an element in the first two columns of the periodic table (those unstable alkali and alkaline earth metals things).

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Carbon compound containing only carbon and hydrogen, and single bonds only.

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Alkanoic acid
The proper IUPAC term for what we typically call carboxylic acids.

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Carbon compound containing carbon and hydrogen incorporating one or more double bonds.

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Alkyl Halide
A carbon compound containing a covalent bond between a halogen (fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine) and an alkane.

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Carbon compound containing carbon and hydrogen incorporating one or more triple bonds

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Any carbon compound containing the functional group -C(O)NH. Acrylamide, CH2=CH-C(O)NH, is one of the nastiest pieces of work you could hope to come across, but poly(acrylamide) is an innocuous compound found in disposable nappies. Get a disposable nappy and tear it open; you will find cottony padding stuff, and a gritty substance - this grit is small particles of cross-linked poly(acrylamide).


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Any carbon compound containing the nitorgen bound only to carbon or hydrogen. The functional group for a primary amine is -NH2, for a secondary amine -NH-, and for a tertiary amine a nitrogen bound the three carbon chains. Amino acids are carbon compounds containing both amine and carboxylic acid groups - e.g., glycine, NH2-CH2-COOH. (Biochemists give this compound the symbol (G))

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Amino acid
A carbon compound containing both an amine (NH2) and an carboxylic acid (-C(O)-OH) functional group. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which can be considered a special case of condensation polymers. Twenty main amino acids are responsible for most of the incredible variation in proteins, and these have been given one letter symbols (G, Q, V, etc.) by biochemists. An example is glycine, NH2-CH2-COOH. (Biochemists give this compound the symbol (G))"

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From the greek meaning 'both' (something like amphi) and 'lover' (something like philos). An amphiphile is a molecule that has a strong attraction towards both polar solvents (like a hydrophile) and non-polar solvents (like a hydrophobe) and will end up concentrated at the interface between the two.

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A negatively charged chemical species, like the hydroxide OH-, carbonate CO32-, or sulphate SO42-, is called an anion. In an electrochemical cell, an anion will move towards the anode to lose its extra electron and generate a current.

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A fancy way of saying "man-made" that hides its lack of political correctness in greek. Think of 'anthropoid' and 'genesis'.

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Any carbon compound containing a six membered ring of carbons, each of which forms only one chemical bond outside of the ring. This is called a phenyl ring, and though it looks like it has alternating single and double bonds, all the bonds are actually the same. Benzene is the simplest arene; other examples are toluene, fulvic acid, and trinitrotoluene


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Australian Research Council
Australia's peak science funding body. The ARC is responsible for running the competitive grant process which is used to determine which proposed research is funded by the Commonwealth government. The ARC's Research Centres Programme established and continues to support the Key Centre for Polymer Colloids.

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Single-celled organisms that probably provide the bulk of the biomass on our planet. There are more bacterial cells within your body than human cells. One of the most interesting things about bacteria is that our macroscopic concepts of 'species' are rather inappropriate - genetic material can be swapped from one 'species' to another with disturbing ease, leading some scientists to call all bacteria a single 'superorganism'. The fantastic durability and longevity of bacteria (some concentrate plutonium inside themselves and happily live inside high level nuclear waste facilities, while others are believed to have survived for tens of millions of years in rock formations) have led some other scientists to speculate they are adapted to life in deep space and are continually raining down on us from above.

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Benzoyl Peroxide
A common initiator used to start chain growth polymerisation. It undergoes a decomposition reaction at the peroxide (O-O) bond. Here is a picture:

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A material may be regarded as biocompatible if it may be put into living organisms without rejection or detrimental effects. Materials may also be considered to be bioinert if they do not interact with the body at all (like titanium knee implants).

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Capable of being eaten or otherwise decomposed by some kind of living creature. Bacteria and fungi are the main culprits; we usually use the word edible for things that can be eaten by animals. It is important to consider the timescale involved - paper is biodegradable, but can kick around for a very long time before succumbing. Most synthetic polymers are not particularly biodegradable (poly(acrylamide) is a rare example of one that is readily degraded), but many are susceptible to breakdown by ultraviolet radiation from the sun and will crumble away in about the same time as an equivalent sheet of paper.

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A polymer produced by a living plant, animal fungus, bacterium, or other biological entity.

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The production of a chemical by bacteria or other living organisms.

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Boiling Point
The temperature at which the pressure exerted by molecules leaving a liquid equals the pressure exerted by the molecules in the air above it. A free-for-all of molecules leaving the liquid then ensues. In a solution, the boiling point will be increased by a number that depends on the number of particles in solution:
delta(T) = Kb × (number of solute molecules per litre)
where delta(T) is the rise in the boiling point and Kb is called the 'ebullioscopic constant' and varies from one solvent to another.

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Breakfast cereal
A possible future application for synthetic polymers... Using polyester instead of wheat could give a product with a much longer shelf life, and you probably couldn't tell the difference once it was covered with sugar and artificial colouring.

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Small country on the north coast of Borneo, wealthy because of its large deposits of crude oil. The Sultan of Brunei has a property in the Northern Territory that is rather larger than the country.

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Common monomer in chain-growth polymerisation; an important constituent of ABS rubber. Here is a picture:

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Calorimetry is a technique for measuring the heat generated or lost in a chemical reaction. The reaction is carried out in such a way that as much as possible of the heat change is transferred to another material, raising its temperature. The heat generated can then be calculated from the amount of the material heated and its specific heat.

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An anion where the negative charge is localised on a carbon atom is imaginatively called a carbanion. The best way to generate a carbanion is to remove a H+ ion from a hydrocarbon. Since carbanions are conjugate bases to very very very weak acids indeed, they are fiendishly reactive bases.

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If a negatively charged hyride (H-) ion is removed from a hydrocarbon, what is left is a positively charged carbenium ion, a form of carbocation.

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A positively-charged chemical species where the positive charge is localised on a carbon atom. Both carbenium ions (which have three bonds to a positively charged carbon) and carbonium ions (which may have five or more bonds to a positively charged carbon) are examples of carbocations.

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Carbon compound with a positive charge localised on a carbon atom.

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If there are five or more bonds to a single carbon atoms, it will be short of electrons and have a positive charge - this species is called a carbonium ion, a form of carbocation. The easiest way to make one is to add a hydrogen ion (H+).

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Carboxylate group
When a carboxylic (alkanoic) acid is deprotonated (i.e., loses a H+ ion) what is left is a negatively-charged carboxylate ion.

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Carboxylic Acid
Any carbon compound containing the functional group -C(O)OH. Formic acid (HCOOH) gives the distinctive smell of crushed ants, while acetic acid (CH3COOH) gives VB its distinctive odour and taste.

acetic acid

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Wallace Hume Carrothers (1896-1937) carried out the key early experiments that led to commercial polyesters, nylons, and neoprene while working for the DuPont corporation and almost single-handedly created the polymer industry in the United States. His amazing scientific achievements did not bring him happiness, and he tragically committed suicide by taking cyanide.

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Compound that accelerates the rate of a chemical reaction, and is not itself consumed in the reaction.

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Catalytic Cracking
A method of cracking that uses a catalyst to convert hydrocarbons to positively charged carbocations, which then break down into smaller molecules. This can be carried out at much lower temperatures than thermal cracking - still hot, 500-600°C as compared to around 700°C, but that difference adds up to a lot of $$$.

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Cationic cation
A positively charged chemical species, like the ammonium NH4+ and scandium Sc4+ ions, is called a cation. In an electrochemical cell, a cation will move towards the cathode to gain an electron to remove its excess positive charge.

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Caustic Soda
When used in industrial processes, sodium hydroxide is often known as caustic soda.

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Ceiling Temperature
Above a certain temperature, monomers can no longer be persuaded to form polymers by chain polymerisation. This occurs when the loss in entropy arising from joining many molecules into one outweighs the energetic benefit of converting double bonds to single bonds. A chain-growth polymer raised above the ceiling temperature will degrade, or depolymerise.

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No, not a misspelling of cellulose... Cellulase is an enzyme capable of depolymerising cellulose to form glucose. Chemists like these sort of words - see if your teacher can tell you the definitions of 'filtrate' and 'filtrant' without having to think about it for a couple of minutes... And if they get that one right, test them out on 'carbenium' and 'carbonium' ions!

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Cellulose is a large component of the biomass of plants and the main source of food energy for the world's termite population. It can be considered to be a condensation polymer of glucose, like starch, but the links between the glucose monomers are slightly different.

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Chain Reaction
A really dodgy film starring Keanu Reeves. Also, a mechanism that has no reason to stop, since the product is just as reactive as the reactants.

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Chemical engineers
People who carry out chemical reactions in ten-ton reactors instead of test tubes. Real chemists tend to assume that chemical engineers just mix up reactions that other people have developed in big buckets, but I've looked at some of the books they have to read and they're full of hairy maths, so some parts of what they do must be kind of tricky. Their main job is actually to design the buckets, how they're stirred, and how things get in and out of them, so that they don't explode, shower the surrounding countryside with toxic waste, or otherwise cost the chemical company too much money. See Industrial Chemist.

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Coagulation and coalescence are both words that are used to describe what happens when small particles in a dispersion combine together to form large ones. One example is what happens to milk (a nice disperse emulsion) if it is leftat the back of the fridge too long. Coagulation is used when the particles that are combining are more or less solids, and coalescnce is usually restricted to droplets of liquid.

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Cohesion just means "sticking together" and cohesive forces are the forces that enable something to stick to itself. For example, if you glue two objects together and then break them apart, a cohesive failure is where the glue itself breaks, as opposed to an adhesive failure where the break is at the join between the glue and one of the objects.

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If the size of a particle is of the order 10 nm to 1 micron (10-8 to 10-6 metres), then a mixture of these particles with a continuous phase (e. g., tiny particles of dust in air or polymer in water) will have properties that are intermediate between those of a true solution and a mixture of largish particles in a substance. Three key things to remember about colloids are:
About the same size as a wavelength of light
Largely unaffected by gravity
A large proportion of the molecules in a colloidal particle are at or near the particle surface

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A monomer that is polymerised along with one or more other monomers to make a copolymer. All the different comonomers used in a copolymerisation are incorporated into each chain.

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Condensation Polymerisation
Also known as Step-Growth Polymerisation. A way of makiing polymers in which every polymer chain grows continuously through the course of the reaction, remaining quite small until almost all the monomer has reacted.

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A polymer that is made up of more than one monomer unit. A copolymer has each of its comonomers in every chain. There are a number of different types of copolymer which describe the nature of the arrangement of the comonomers within the polymer chain. For the two monomer units A and B we can have:
statistical (or random)...ABAAABBABBAABBB...

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Corrosion inhibition
Corrosion can be defined as the unwanted production of a salt from a metal. Adding acid or oxygen are good ways to do this. The main ways of slowing corrosion down (inhibition) are by providing an impermeable coating to stop the chemical reaction from occuring in the first place, or by providing a more easily attacked metal which will be consumed first (a 'sacrificial anode')

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An Amp(ere) of current is what you get one one Coulomb worth of electric charge flows past a point in one second - i.e., 1 A = 1 C/s. One mole of electrons has a charge of 96 500 C, which is called a Farad.

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The process in which large molecules found in crude oil are broken down into smaller molecules. See Catalytic Cracking and Thermal Cracking

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Crude Oil
Tarry goop consisting of mixed carbon compounds with a highly variable composition. Not much to look at, but the basis for the chemical industry, modern transport, and many shopping sprees at Harrods.

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A large number of objects that are all the same size and shape and are attracted to one another will tend to form repeating three-dimensional structures, instead of lying about randomly. A more complicated crystal will be formed if more than one kind of object is present. You are probably most familiar with crystals of simple covalent solids (like sugar) or ionic solids(like table salt), where the attractive forces between perfectly ordinary molecules and ions line up in an orderly fashion to give structure that we can actually see on the macroscopic scale. It is possible to form crystals even of proteins with molecualr weights approaching a million, as each molecule of a protein will have the same molecular weight and three-dimensional shape, and we have all seen 'crystals' of oranges stacked in fruit shops.

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To find the density of an object, you measure its mass and its volume, then divide the mass by the volume, giving a density measured in g/cm3 or kg/dm-3. Since all atoms are about the same size, the densest materials are metals like osmium and gold, which are elements with heavy nuclei, and the least dense are the very first elements in the periodic table, the gases hydrogen and helium.

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The chemical reaction which results in a polymer chain being broken up into monomer units. For most polymers made by addition polymerisation, this is done by heating the polymer above its ceiling temperature in the absence of oxygen. Some polymers, like styrene and vinyl chloride, will be difficult to depolymerise because the bonds between the side-groups (the phenyl ring and chlorine in these examples) are weaker than the C-C bonds between ex-monomers, and the polymer will degrade into different species than the starting materials. Other polymers, such as those made by step growth polymerisation may be more easily depolymerised by undoing the condensation or elimination reaction that caused the monomer units to join. In the lab, this can often be done using a strong acid in harsh conditions, although industrially, there are other tricks that polymer scientists can play.

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The reaction in which small alkenes are generated from the decompostion of a large alkane radical. This reaction is important in Thermal Cracking, and is responsible for the ceiling temperature, which prohibits chain polymerisation above a certain temperature.

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Detergency is the property of surfactants that allows them to clean things for us. The surfactants accumulate on the oil/water interface so that when we scrub the oily stain to break it up, the oil drops do not coaleasce.

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A detergent is a type of surfactant. Essentially, a detergent is any surfactant that is not a soap.

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An acid that has two acidic hydrogen atoms that can react with a base is dibasic. An example is the amino acid aspartic acid, which contains two carboxylic acid groups with different reactivities.

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A dimer is two molecules (of the same type) bonded together. (just as monomer is one (mono) unit (mer) a dimer is two units).

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If one part of a molecule is more attractive to electrons than another part, it will have a permanent uneven distribution of charge - i.e., one end will be slightly positive and one will be slightly negative. There will be an attraction between two molecules of this substance, since they will turn so that the positive end of one is facing the negative end of the other.

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Just as there are monomers, dimers, trimers, oligomers, and polymers, indicating one, two, three, several, and many identical units joined together in a molecule, the combinations of saccharides (aka sugars) are known as mono-, di-, tri-, oligo- and polysaccharides. An example of a disaccharide is sucrose, composed of the simple sugars glucose and fructose joined by an ether linkage. An example of a polysaccharide is chitin, a nitrogen-containing polymer of modified glucose units that makes up the exoskeleton of insects.

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Two substances mixed together such that one is not dissolved in the other. For example, milk, a dispersion of globules of fat in water; latex paint, a dispersion of polymer particles in water; smoke, a dispersion of carbon particles in air.

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Dispersion Forces
Since electrons move around, even a molecule with no permanent separation of charge will have negative and positively charged bits from one instant to another. These imperfections generate an overall attractive force even between molecules as unreactive as N2. Since this explanation is already too complicated for anyone to understand, I may as well go on to say that they are called Dispersion Forces because they are related to a quantity called the dispersion of a substance, which is the rate of change in refractive index with frequency of transmitted radiation. You can also call them London Forces, after Fritz London (1900-1954).

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Separation of two liquid compounds by boiling point. For example, a mixture of two hydrocarbons can be heated so that the lower molecular weight hydrocarbon evaporates - if the vapour is not allowed to escape, but taken around the corner and cooled down, it can be extracted as a pure liquid.

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Dodgy example
Imagine you have a certain number of Queenslanders, each representing molecules of the same reactant in a chemical reaction. You apply metaphorical kinetic energy (give them car keys) and tell them that they can have $10000 dollars if they meet you at a certain address in North Sydney. There is a strong incentive for them to meet you there (the reaction Queensland --> North Sydeny) is thermodynamically favoured) - but, chances are they will get sucked through the Harbour Tunnel and Eastern Distributor to Botany instead (the reaction Queensland --> Botany is kinetically favoured). If you stop the reaction while they are all in Botany, you will obtain the kinetic product, but if you let them keep the car keys you should end up with the thermodynamic product eventually. At a certain stage in the reaction, you will have a mixture of the kinetic and thermodynamic products.

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A polymer that, when deformed (stretched, twisted, spindled, mutilated, etc.) springs back into its original shape. The elastomer par excellence is lightly-crosslinked natural rubber.

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A tiny speck of electric charge, so-far impossible to break into smaller pieces, weighing in at 9.109 × 10-31 kg and a charge of 1.602 × 10-19 Coulombs. An electron is so small that its 'size' is a nebulous concept; if it were a little round ball, it would be about 10-15 m across.

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The ability of an atom to attract electrons is its electronegativity. Elements that easily form negatively charged ions, such as fluorine and oxygen, have a high electronegativity. Generally speaking, the top right corner of the periodic table is home to the most electronegative elements, while the bottom left is the least electronegative.

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A compound added to a mixture of two immiscible liquids in order to make it an emulsion, and not just two layers of liquid lying on top of each other. An emulsifier will usually be a molecule where one end is highly soluble in water and the other is highly soluble in oil. Sodium dodecyl sulfate, the active ingredient in bubble-blowing mixture, is a surfactant. So is lecithin, found in egg yolk:

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A dispersion where a liquid is dispersed in another liquid - for example, mayonnaise is an emulsion of water in oil and milk is an emulsion of oil in water. Strictly speaking, a dispersion is only an emulsion if the dispersed blobs of liquid are of colloidal dimensions.

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A measure of the number of possible states a group of 'somethings can occupy' - the more possible ways the group can be arranged, the higher the entropy. For example, there are fewer possible configurations of students in chairs in a room where the chairs are bolted to the floor than where the chairs can be moved around - the room with fewer possibilities will have less entropy, and more order... It's also interesting that the entropy of the universe is always increasing, so any process that gives one part of the universe (e.g. your bedroom) more order is increasing the disorder in other places (e.g. the air due to the hard work of cleaning your room). On balance, then, it is better for the universe if you don't clean your room... try convincing your parents though...

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A protein that catalyses a biochemical reaction. For example, chemical engineers make nitrogen (N2) into ammonia (NH3) using high temperatures and pressures - generating the power to make fertiliser by this process accounts for about 2% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Bacteria do the same thing at soil temperature and pressure using enzymes to catalyse the reaction.

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Take a carboxylic acid and an alcohol and remove water, so that you are left with two bits linked by a C(O)-O- group - this is an ester. Many of the most important industrial polymers are esters. For example, ethyl acetate:

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What most people just call alcohol, ethanol is the alcohol with which most people are most familiar. It's a very useful solvent, antiseptic, cleaner and is also known as a "social lubricant" due to its physiological effects, which can include death. Most polymer scientists never ever touch the stuff. Honest.


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Also known as ethylene, ethene is the simplest monomer for use in addition polymerisation reactions. Poly(ethene) (or polyethylene) is well known to you in the form of cling wrap.


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Any carbon compound containing the functional group C-O-C. A commonly used ether is diethyl ether, which used to be used as an anæsthetic.

diethyl ether

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Usually, the limiting factor on how many living organisms can grow in a body of water is the supply of nutrient elements such as nitrogen and phosphorus. If these are supplied in overabundance (for example, by pouring fertilizer into the lake), plants and bacteria can multiply to such an extent that the oxygen consumed in their decomposition can exhaust the oxygen available in the lake, causing a loss of species that like oxygen and the multiplication of anaerobic bacteria that generate nasty chemicals like hydrogen sulfide. This process, as well as the more stately natural accumulation of nutrients over time leading to a more complex and populous community of living things in the lake, is called eutrophication. More...

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A controlled environment for the application of common sense. Having observed something interesting in the world of chemistry, we make an educated guess as to what is happening (a 'theory'), then say "if this explanation is true, we should see such-and-such an effect if we do such-and-such." Actually doing such-and-such and seeing what happens is called 'doing an experiment'.

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The process in which an organic substance is converted into another organic substance and carbon dioxide to generate energy by a (micro)organism in the absence of oxygen. "Fermentation" comes from the latin word for yeast, a kind of single-celled fungus. The most common fermentation reaction is the one by which glucose is converted into ethanol and carbon dioxide. This series of reactions is made use of humans when they use yeasts to make alcoholic drinks. It is easy to go wrong and make some different kind of alcohol (e.g., butanol), depending on the microorganisms involved, which is one reason you occasionally hear of deaths from drinking illicitly produced alcohol.

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If a substance absorbs light at one wavelength and re-radiates it at another wavelength almost immediately, it is fluorescent; this is why many materials glow under ultraviolet light. If the substance keeps re-radiating light over a period of seconds, minutes, or hours, it is called phosphorescent.

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Fossil Fuel
A fossil fuel is a fuel such as coal, oil or natural gas that was formed through the decomposition of ancient plant and animal life. Fossil fuels are generally burnt to release the energy stored in the chemical bonds of the hydrocarbons. A side-effect of this combustion is the release of gases such as carbon dioxide, which has been linked to global warming through the Greenhouse Effect. Fossil fuel reserves are also finite and some of them (particularly oil reserves) are likely to run out within our lifetime.

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Separation of a mixture of hydrocarbons into fractions with different boiling point ranges by heating crude oil in a column that is cooler at the top than at the bottom - 'fractions' are removed from the column at different heights where the temperature is different.

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Free Radical
A member of the socialist party not caught by McCarthy's inquisition. Also a molecule which has an odd number of electrons. The "unpaired" electron feels lonely and wants to find a friend. If it finds something that might be willing to give it an electron it reacts very quickly with it. Molecules such as other radicals and alkenes turn out to be good things for radicals to attack. The reaction of radicals with the double bonds in alkenes is how some of us earn our living.

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Freezing Point
The temperature where a liquid or solution changes from a liquid to a solid. Clearly, one person's Freezing Point will be another's Melting Point. In a solution the freezing point will be reduced by a number that depends on the number of particles in solution
delta(T) = Kf × (number of solute molecules per litre)
where delta(T) is the reduction in freezing point and Kf is called the 'cryoscopic constant' and varies from one solvent to another.

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Functional Group
An atom or group of atoms that has similar chemical behavior, no matter what the rest of the molecule looks like. For example, the hydroxy (OH) group in all alcohols has similar reactivity, as does the thio (SH) group in all thiols.

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Neither plants nor animals, fungi are eukaryotes (organisms whose cells have nuclei) which are incapable of making their own food by photosynthesis and survive by breaking down chemical compounds made by plants and bacteria to waste products, just like we do.

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Giulio Natta
Nobel prize winning chemist (1903-1979) who did a vast quantity of work on the catalysts allowing high density poly(ethene) and poly(propene) to be produced. Most of his work was done in Milan, Italy, for the Montecatini corporation, making him one of the most successful industrial chemists of the 20th century. He was married to Rosita Beati Natta. Like Karl Ziegler, he was a keen mountain climber. A quote: "What had been exclusively in the power of Nature, namely to join the monomeric units in a giant molecule with a predetermined steric order and not at random, is now possible also for man." (quoted in "The Chain Straighteners," by F. McMillan)

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Glass Transition Temperature
The temperature where the molecules of a polymeric solid can begin to move relative to one another, giving a substance that behaves like a rubber, rather than a brittle glass. Alternatively, you can think of it as the temperature where the molecules of a polymeric solid can no longer move relative to one another, giving a substance that behaves like glass, rather than a rubber that can be stretched without breaking. It all depends on which way you are going...

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A set of definitions of words, such as this one. Not all glossaries are self-referential.

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A common sugar, one of many with the chemical formula C6O6H12 but different three-dimensional structures. It is not the simplest of all sugars (that honour belongs to glyceraldehyde, C3O3H6), but glucose is the fundamental building block of many biopolymers, including starch and cellulose, and is the starting material for the serious biochemical reactions used to obtain energy in most "higher" organisms.

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Propan-1,2,3-triol, named from the greek word for 'sweet' thanks to its taste. It is the basis for many animal and vegetable fats.

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While natural rubber from the rubber tree Hevea brasiliensis is cis-poly(isoprene), the Malaysian sapodilla tree Palaquium oblongifolia produces a latex that is trans-poly(isoprene). This material is called guttah-percha and is more brittle and hard than natural rubber.

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The ions of charge -1 of the elements in the next to last column of the periodic table: chloride, fluoride, bromide, iodide (and astatide, but there are only eleven known atoms of astatine, so no one ever counts it).

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One of the elements in the next-to-last column of the periodic table - fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine, and astatine.

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Heat of combustion
The amount of heat released in burning completely an amount of substance is its heat of combustion. The amount needed for one mole is naturally called the molar heat of combustion. A general formula for the combustion of any organic compound is:

Entry: 219

Heat of vaporisation
The amount of heat energy required to transform an amount of a substance from the liquid phase to the gas phase is its heat of vaporisation. The amount needed for one mole is naturally called the molar heat of vaporisation...

Entry: 218

Homo Neanderthalensis
A species of human, now extinct, that was common in Europe and the Mideast about 100 000 years ago. The name comes from Neandertal, meaning 'Neander valley', in northwestern Germany, which was in turn named after the 17th century latin teacher and school principal Joachim Neander, where the first remains of Neandertal man were discovered. Here is more info.

Entry: 203

Any chemical compound containing only hydrogen and carbon. We have been unable to determine where the word comes from.

Entry: 47

Hydrogen bond
The strongest attraction between two dipoles is when one or both of them involves a bond between hydrogen and a strongly electronegative atom, like oxygen, fluorine, or nitrogen. Because hydrogen only has one electron, if it forms a bond with an element that is very keen to grab an electron, it becomes much more positive than an element that has plenty of other electrons left to hang around the positively charged nucleus. Dipole-dipole interactions between these sort of molecules (like water {H2O}, ammonia {NH3}, hydrofluoric acid {HF}) are so much stronger than ordinary dipole-dipole bonds that we give them the special name of 'hydrogen bonds'.

Entry: 217

Hydrogen sulfide
'Rotten egg gas', H2S. It is responsible for the distinctive odour of Rotorua, in New Zealand.

Entry: 230

Hydrolysis is a reaction where water attacks a part of a molecule, usually breaking it up. An example of hydrolysis is the breaking of the ester linkages to form a soap out of an oil. In this reaction, the ester linkage is broken, releasing an alcohol and an acid.

Entry: 128

From the greek words for water (something like hydro) and love (something like philos). A hydrophilic compound is one that "loves" water and easily dissolves in it. Having lots of potential for hydrogen bonding or having a charge will make a compound hydrophilic. Most inorganic salts and some organic molecules including ethanol and diethyl ether are hydrophilic. Opposite of hydrophobic.

Entry: 121

From the greek words for water (something like hydro) and fear (something like phobos). A compound is hydrophobic if it is "hates" water and will not dissolve in it. Having little hydrogen bonding capacity and no charge makes a molecule hydrophobic. Most organic molecules, such as hexane, triolein, and styrene are hydrophobic. Opposite of hydrophilic. Nothing to do with rabies (hydrophobia).

Entry: 122

Hydroxy group
An hydroxy group is an -OH group hanging off an organic molecule.

Entry: 106

Industrial chemsts
What is the difference between an industrial chemist and a chemical engineer? While a chemical engineer is concerned with moving lots of chemicals around and ensuring reactors do what they're supposed to, industrial chemists are more like real chemists and busy themselves with the reactions that are going on, trying to optimise how much of an industrial product is made and how quickly it is made.

Entry: 174

A compound required to start a chain reaction, such as free-radical polymerisation. Unlike a catalyst, it is consumed in the reaction, but only a small quantity is normally required since one molecule of initiator can initiate the reaction of many other molecules.

Entry: 48

Interesting example of a steric effect
Results for a reaction in which a phenyl ring was added to toluene or t-butylbenzene are given below. There are no relevant chemical differences between the methyl and t-butyl groups; the difference in product distribution is entirely due to the greater size of the t-butyl group.

Entry: 195

Any chemical compound that is primarily of interest as one of the steps between the starting material and the final product. It is usually best to design chemical processes so that intermediates do not need to be transported from place or stored in large quantities. Methyl isocyanate, an intermediate in the manufacture of certain pesticides, is a good example. For the horrific consequences of inappropriate and entirely unnecessary storage of this highly toxic intermediate, have a look at: www.bhopal.org.

Entry: 49

Generally, any two chemicals with the same chemical formula but a different structure. For example, hexane (C6H14) could be n-hexane, 2-methylpentane, 3-methylpentane, 2,3-dimethylbutane, 2,2-dimethylbutane:

Entry: 50

Monomer sometimes used in chain polymerisation. Natural rubber is poly(isoprene), although it generated in nature from the somewhat more complicated building block mevalonic acid phosphate. Here is a picture:

Entry: 51

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemists. IUPAC is involved in setting consistent nomenclature, symbols and names of elements, mathematical variables.... Some people think IUPAC is a bunch of funny old men with nothing better to do than meddle with the perfectly good ways of spelling things chemists have used since Paracelsus was a boy, but we polymer scientists know better. Take a wander to the IUPAC website.

Entry: 104

Karl Ziegler
Nobel prize winning chemist (1898-1973) who did a vast quantity of work on the catalysts allowing high density poly(ethene) and poly(propene) to be produced. Most of his work was done at the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research in Müllheim, Germany, and had nothing to do with coal, showing the economic benefits of pure research. Like Giulio Natta, he was a keen mountain climber. A quote: "My only motivation has always been just to do what was fun." (quoted in "The Chain Straighteners," by F. McMillan)

Entry: 52

An alkanone or ketone is any carbon compound containing the C-C(O)-C group. Acetone is the simplest ketone and is a common solvent found, for example, in fingernail polish remover.

Entry: 53

Key Centre for Polymer Colloids
The Key Centre for Polymer Colloids (KCPC) is a research centre at the University of Sydney, established and supported under the Australian Research Council's Research Centres Programme. The KCPC is involved in a range of research projects including the use of polymers in rice production and developing a better understanding of paint systems. See our website:

Entry: 54

The word 'kinetic' comes from the greek word for 'motion'. In chemistry, kinetics is the study of how fast reactions occur. In many chemical reactions where there are a number of possible products, the first one formed may be the one that is formed most quickly, not necessarily the one that is most stable; if you leave the reaction going, you should eventually form the product that involves the greatest change in bond energy - the thermodynamic product. Try this dodgy example.

Entry: 216

A latex (plural latices, or latexes for the Americans!) is a dispersion of water-insoluble polymer in water. The dispersion is usually of particles (not single molecules) that are around 100 nm (10-4 mm) in size. The particles are keep suspended in the water by thermal convection (which keeps them from settling out) and surfactants (which keep them from sticking together to form bigger and bigger lumps). Another word for latex is polymer colloid.

Entry: 118

Latin America
The region between Tijuana and Tierra del Fuego containing a few major petroleum producing countries such as Mexico and Venezuela. So-called because the inhabitants speak badly mispronounced and grammatically incorrect provincial Latin.

Entry: 56

In a crystal, some arrangement of atoms is repeated in a regular way. If we put an imaginary point at the centre of each repeating unit and mentally throw the rest away, the positions of these points will define a crystal lattice. For example, if the points define the corners of a cube, the crystal is a primitive cubic lattice; if they define the corners and a point in the centre of each face (like a die with a one on every side), the crystal is a face-centred cubic lattice, etc. There are 14 basic types of crystal lattice.

Entry: 215

The cross-linked polymer of linked benzene rings that makes hardwood hard. It is an important structural material for most land plants, and is usually found mixed in with cellulose. Partial digestion of lignin by enzymes (completely different from the ones that break down cellulose) gives complex materials called humic and fulvic acids. These are the substances that give Adelaide water its unique colour and flavour!

Entry: 57

A great website that has a lot of information about polymer chemistry. Or, as they describe themselves "A cyberwonderland of polymer fun": University of Southern Mississippi, Macrogalleria

Entry: 100

Once was had the word 'microscopic', it was only a matter of time before we needed 'macroscopic'; anything big enough to be seen with the naked eye is macroscopic in size.

Entry: 214

Getting people to give you money for goods or services. The relative importance of marketing and research to the wellbeing of society can be measured by the amounts of money spent on each activity.

Entry: 213

Mechanical Properties
Things you can measure while you push, twist, bend, tear, fold, spindle, or mutilate something - the simplest example is probably putting a known force (stress) on a piece of something and measuring how far it stretches (strain). Millions of pages have been written about stress-strain curves.

Entry: 58

Melting Point
The temperature at which a solid turns into a liquid. As temperature is a measure of the kinetic energy of molecules (how much they are moving around), this means that the molecules are moving too much to stay in one place anymore.

Entry: 59

Three really cool little greek words that we use to describe where things are attached to phenyl rings. Let's say we have one functional group attached to a phenyl ring - a carboxylic acid group, to give us benzoic acid. If we now attach a single amino group to the phenyl ring, there are three possible products:

The third of these, para-amino benzoic acid, is known by its acronym PABA and is an ingredient in sunscreens. Ortho and meta are also used to distinguish between two acids whose molecular formulas are identical except for the amounts of hydrogen and oxygen. IUPAC is gradually cracking down on this sort of thing.

Entry: 180

Methyl Methacrylate
Monomer commonly used in chain-addition polymerisations.

methyl methacrylate

Entry: 60

Pertaining to Mexico, one of the major crude oil producers of Latin America. Petrologists now think the asteroid impact that helped kill off the dinosaurs (which crashed into Mexico 65 million years ago) also created the right geological conditions to form Mexico's petroleum deposits. Also sometimes used in a pejorative sense when refering to inhabitants of the state of Victoria.

Entry: 61

Organised blob of surfactant molecules with all the hydrophobic tails pointing inwards to create a tiny hydrophobic phase. If you try to dissolve surfactant molecules in water, you will succeed up to a point as more surfactant is added, and then any additional surfactant you add will form micelles. Under the same conditions, a particular surfactant will always form micelles of the same size and containing almost the same number of surfactant molecule.

Entry: 212

Middle East
Far North-West.

Entry: 62

A non-metric unit of length which can be divided into 8 furlongs, 80 chains, 360 rods, 1760 yards, 5280 feet, 8000 links or 63360 inches. It is equal to 1609.344 metres, more or less.

Entry: 181

Basically Queensland with rather fewer beaches. The oppressed minority population of Mississippi could not vote until the 1860s! The geological epoch known as the Carboniferous (286-360 years before present) in which many of the world's major coal deposits were deposited, is divided into the Mississippian (286-320 ybp) and Pennsylvanian (320-360 ybp) in American-speaking countries.

Entry: 63

The adjective derived from 'mole'. The total heat released when a mole of something burns is its molar heat of combustion; the concentration of a substance expressed in moles/litre is its molar concentration, usw.

Entry: 204

The mole is defined as the amount of a substance that contains as many atoms or molecules as atoms are contained in 0.012 kg of carbon-12. The easiest way to think of it is that a mole of a substance of a particular weight will weigh that many gramm. There are about 6.02 × 1023 particles in a mole.

Entry: 211

Molecular Weight
Molecules are too small to put on a scale, but if you put 6.022 × 1023 of them (60 220 000 000 000 000 000 000, Avogadro's Number) of them on a scale, they will weigh about 2 g (if they are Hydrogen molecules, H2), 128 g (if they are butyl acrylate molecules, C7O2H12) or 10 tonnes (if they are typical molecules of poly(acrylamide)). This number is their 'molecular weight'.

Entry: 64

While the farms of antiquity grew many sorts of plant and animal on the same location, modern factory farming involves the cultivation of a single species, to the exclusion of all other forms of life. This is called monoculture.

Entry: 210

Any small molecule that can undergo a reaction in which it is incorporated into a large molecule containing many similar units. Common monomers are vinyl acetate, styrene, butadiene and vinyl chloride. (Yes, it is appropriate to consider hydrocarbons as polymers of methylene!)

Entry: 65

Short for "megapascal", that is, one million pascals. A pascal is the pressure generated by a mass of approximately 100g on a square metre under the earth's gravitational field. Atmospheric pressure is about 100,000 pascal (100 kPa, or as weather forecasters like to say, 1000 hPa [hectopascal]), so 7 MPa is about 70 times atmospheric pressure. You may come across values in "psi", or "pound force per square inch": 1 MPa is about 145 psi.

Entry: 206

The country formerly known as Burma. It is not a major crude oil producer.

Entry: 66

The trivial name for poly(2-chlorobutadiene). This polymer is used in the manufacture of fan belts and wetsuits. The monomer, 2-chlorobutadiene (aka chloroprene), looks something like this:

Entry: 168

Adding base to an acidic solution until it is no longer acidic, or acid to a basic solution until it is no longer basic. pH 7, where equal amounts of H+ and OH- ions will be present in any aqueous solution, is the pH of a truly neutral solution.

Entry: 209

Why atomic weights are complicated. Each element has a certain number of protons in its nucleus, which defins what element it is (e.g,, 92 for Uranium, 2 for Helium, 109 for Meitnerium). To keep the positively charged protons from flying apart through electrostatic repulsion, they are bound together by the 'strong force' which is a veyr powerful force operating over very short distances between protons and neutrons. A certain number of neutrons gives optimal stability to a nucleus - too many or too few and the nucleus will be unstable (i.e., radioactive). Most elements are found naturally in a number of 'isotopes', forms with different number sof neutrons - e.g., Carbon-12, Carbon-13, Carbon-14. Neutrons weigh about 1.6749 × 10-27 kg, slightly more than a proton.

Entry: 235

Pertaining to Nigeria, one of the major crude oil producers of Africa. If history had turned out rather differently, we would be refering to "Biafran Crude".

Entry: 67

A carbon compound containing a carbon-nitrogen triple bond. An example is acetonitrile, a common organic solvent:

Entry: 68

The -NO2 functional group. You may have heard of trinitrotoluene (TNT) - here's a picture:

Entry: 69

Nobel Prize
An award given for really good scientific work, usually once all the dust has settled and the people who did are decently old and respectable. More information on the Nobel Prizes can be found on their website: nobelprize.org.

Entry: 70

Naming things.

Entry: 151

Er... not ionic? Any chemical species that has neither a positive or negative charge is nonionic.

Entry: 207

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance
NMR is an analytical technique for working out what an organic compound actually is. It works by placing the sample inside a very strong magnetic field (typically around 100,000 times stronger than the earth's magnetic field, though it can be carried out with weaker and weaker fields as research continues) and playing FM radio waves at it. The strong magnetic field and the absorption and emission of the radio signals allows the operator to work out how the individual atoms are connected within small to medium sized molecules.

NMR was banned from export out of the USA for many years for fear that the Russians would get hold of this technology. The fear was based on the use of the word "Nuclear" in the title, not on what the machine actually did...

A new version of NMR is able to resolve the spatial distribution of compounds and produce a 3D map. This has wonderful uses in the medical world, but once again the name "nuclear" was unacceptable, so the technique was renamed "Magnetic Resonance Imaging" or MRI. Perhaps if the FM link was made more widely known, we could refer to the technique as "Easy Listening Imaging" and make a clean break with anything remotely nuclear.

Entry: 112

A class of polymers that is widely use in the clothing industry (amongst others). Their common feature is the presence of a -C(O)-NH- link between monomer units. This is also called a peptide bond. See Nylon 66 and Nylon 6.

Entry: 109

Nylon 6
Another form of nylon that uses only one monomer unit (not two). This monomer is difunctional with a carboxylic acid group at one end and an amine group at the other. The condensation reaction between two such molecules produces an amide bond in the same way as the synthesis of Nylon 66. The monomer used is (I think) 7-amine-1-heptanoic acid.

Entry: 110

Nylon 66
A polymer widely used in a fibrous form in fabrics as well as solid lumps of plastic (e.g. in chopping boards and bearings). Nylon 66 may be formed from the condensation polymerisation of 1,2-hexadiamine and 1,8-octadioic acid, although modern industrial processes have improved upon these reactions by ionising the reagents to the hexadiammonium and 1,8-octadioate ions before the reaction is undertaken.

Entry: 108

A steroid hormone responsible for the development of female characteristics in mammals. The proper name for it is 'estradiol' and it looks like this:

Entry: 178

Oleate Ion
The oleate ion is one of the most common soaps, being derived from triolein, a component of olive oil.

sodium oleate

Entry: 120

An oligomer is a molecule which is formed from a few smaller (identical) molecules joined together. Just as a monomer is one (mono) unit (mer) and a dimer is two (di) units, an oligomer is a few units.

Entry: 133

Ore flotation
A common way for extracting particles of metal from an ore is to crush the ore into a fine powder, add water and surfactant, and bubble air through. Particles of many useful minerals, which are more hydrophobic than the rock that surrounds them, will stick to the surfactant bubbles and collect at the surface.

Entry: 208

When referring to chemical compounds, anything that contains carbon. The original definition was more like "any chemical found in or derived from a living organism" and most chemists still feel funny calling carbon monoxide or the carbonate ion (CO32-) organic compoinds.

Entry: 153

Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries
A powerful grouping of oil producing countries that seeks to maintain steady oil prices and regulate production. The current member nations are: Algeria, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Vatican City and Venezuela.
For more information, see the OPEC website.

Entry: 131

Osmotic Pressure
Where two solutions of different concentration are separated by a membrane which the solvent molecules can move through, but the dissolved particles (solute) can't, the solvent will move from the less concentrated to the more concentrated solution to attempt to equalise the concentrations. The pressure that must be exerted on the solution to stop this influx of solvent is called the Osmotic Pressure, which is given by a simple equation for dilute solutions:
Pressure = 8.314 × (Temperature) × (difference in number of solute molecules per litre)

Entry: 71

Pertaining to Pennsylvania. The geological epoch known as the Carboniferous (286-360 years before present), in which many of the world's major coal deposits were deposited, is divided into the Mississippian (286-320 ybp) and Pennsylvanian (320-360 ybp) in American-speaking countries.

Entry: 72

Periodic table
A logical way of writing down all the 111 elements so that the connections between their properties and their electronic structure is 'obvious'. I think 111 is the right number this week.... There are many fantastic periodic tables on the web, such as WebElements.

Entry: 221

Flowing into the pores and gaps of a substance; why you can pour water into a cup that is already full of sand, and pour a lot of water into a cup that is already full of popcorn.

Entry: 205

Short for poly(ethylene terephthalate), a condensation polymer that is commonly used in soft-drink bottles. It can be prepared by the reaction between ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid to give polymer and water:

Entry: 163

Petrochemical Industry
Industries based on petroleum and chemicals derived from petroleum.

Entry: 130

Value-added products made from crude oil or natural gas. Most all of the chemicals we use to keep civilisation rolling along.

Entry: 162

A sticky, oily, flammable liquid that is a complex mixture of organic compounds (mostly hydrocarbons) and other may vary in colour from nearly colourless to black. Basically, it is another word for crude oil. 'Petr' means something like 'rock' and 'oleum' means something like 'oil'.

Entry: 73

If you call a 'system' anything that is in a bucket, that a 'phase' is a part of the system that can be (at least in theory) separated mechanically without any chemical reaction, and is of uniform composition. You could have ice and water mixed in a bucket (two phases) ice and soda water (three phases, if you count the bubbles) or ice and salad dressing (three phases - ice, oil, and vinegar - yuck).

Entry: 202

Phosphoric acid, H3PO4, is a weak acid found in many soft drinks.

Entry: 201

A nifty reaction carried out inside green plants, and by a number of different kinds of bacteria, which basically uses energy from the sun to run the combustion reaction backwards.

Entry: 226

"A chemical bond formed by the indirect overlap of two atomic orbitals. I don't think I actually want to get into this, but the two bonds in a double bond are not the same; one is a sigma bond, formed by the direct "Head-to-Head" overlap of two atomic orbitals, and this is considerably stronger than the second one, which is a pi-bond."...

Entry: 74

What most people think of when they think of polymers. Strictly speaking, a plastic is a polymeric material that can be molded into different shapes when heated (a thermoplastic) - this is true for most of the materials mentioned on this website, including poly(styrene), nylon66, PVC, and PET. Some misguided people say nasty things about plastic, but it wouldn't be everywhere if it wasn't (a) incredibly useful and (b) incredibly cheap.

Entry: 149

"A compound added to a polymer to make it softer and more flexible. These are usually small molecules with dangling bits that can disrupt the packing of polymer chains. A common plasticiser used to soften PVC is dioctyl phthalate:

Entry: 75

Polyesters are a class of polymer which use ester linkages (-C-O-C(O)-) to join the monomer units. Polyesters are condensation polymers.

Entry: 143

A large molecule (molecular weight ~10 000 or greater) composed of many smaller molecules (monomer) covalently bonded together. Some of us think they are much better than any of those little molecules, but the other chemists are always telling us size doesn't matter.

Entry: 76

Polymer Matrix
A mass of polymer consisting of a number of chains is often described as being a polymer matrix. In a mass of polymer like this, the chains will often be entangled. If the chains can slide past each other easily, the polymer matrix will be rubbery and flexible; if they cannot, the matrix will be hard and glassy.

Entry: 140

Polymer Scientist
A species of selfless professional divided into two subspecies: polymer physicists, who do boring stuff, and polymer chemists, who do exciting stuff. The highest form of sentient life.

Entry: 77

The process in which many small molecules (molecular weight ~100) are joined together to form a few, much larger molecules (molecular weight 10 000 - 10 000 000). The two ways in which this happens are chain-growth and step-growth polymerisation.

Entry: 78

A polymer of olefins, molecules that have an alkene (double bond) functionality. These polymers include polystyrene and poly(vinyl chloride). They are normally formed by free radical polymerisation (a form of addition polymerisation).

Entry: 113

Primary production
Digging stuff up and selling it. Also, growing stuff and selling it. Just about the entire Australian economy, really.

Entry: 79

Every uncharged atom has an equal number of positively charged protons (which are relatively big and sit in the nucleus with the neutrons) and negatively-charged electrons, which whuirl around on the outside and make chemistry. A proton weighs about 1.6726 × 10-27 kg, slightly less than a neutron.

Entry: 236

Quaternary ammonium
You are probably aware of the ammonium ion, NH4+. A molecule that is NR4+, where 'R' is any carbon compound, is called a 'quaternary ammonium' species. See amines.

Entry: 200

The Royal Australian Chemical Institute. RACI is the professional body for chemists in Australia. The Institute gives accreditation to people based on training and experience, organises conferences, career workshops and produces a monthly magazine Chemistry in Australia. Have a look at their website: www.raci.org,au.

Entry: 105

Refractive Index
For a particular substance, the speed of light in a vacuum divided by the speed of light in that substance. This gives rise to the bending of light as it travels from one transparent material to another.

Entry: 80

Finding out stuff. Finding out stuff that has never been found out before is the most exciting kind of research. Themore stuff you have found out, the more power you have to do good things, and bad things. The country that finds out the most stuff wins. Also, it takes money to find out stuff, especially stuff that has never been found out before.

Entry: 199

Rosin, also colophony, hard, brittle, translucent, usually amber-colored resin, that is obtained as the residue in the distillation of turpentine. The rosin prepared from exuded, or gum, turpentine is called gum rosin; that obtained from extracted, or wood, turpentine is called wood rosin. Rosin has a specific gravity of about 1.08. It is soluble in alcohol, ether, and other organic solvents and is insoluble in water. Rosin softens when heated to about 80° C (about 176° F) and melts between 120° and 135° C (248° and 275° F). It is one of the most important resins commercially and is used extensively in making varnishes, paints, and soaps; in the manufacture of linoleum; in sizing paper; as a drier in oils; as a flux for solder; and as an adulterant of more costly resins. It is also used to treat violin bows and dancing slippers.

abietic acid, the chief constituent of rosin

Entry: 81

Rosita Beati Natta
Inventor of the nomenclature used to describe the stereochemistry of polymers - atactic, for polymers with no long range order; isotactic, for polymers in which all the side groups are on the same side of the backbone chain; and syndiotactic, for polymers in which the side groups alternate from one side to another.

Entry: 82

A simple saccharide, or sugar, is a molecule that is simply lousy with alcohol groups so that it has the general chemical formula CnOnH2n. There are big chemical differences between them depending on the exact geometry of the hydroxyl groups, so there are a lot more different kinds than you think. We tend to give them trivial names, like 'glucose' and 'galactose', since all their structures look pretty much the same and their systematic names would be too... These 'monosaccharides' can join together to form disaccharides (two sugars joined together) or larger chemical structures.

Entry: 198

A saponification reaction is the reverse of the esterification reaction. The term "saponification" is normally only used in the context of the making of soaps from the reaction.

Entry: 129

Referring to itself; for example. "This sentence no verb", is a good example of a self-referential sentence.

Entry: 238

Side groups
All the carbon based polymers you will find mentioned on this site have the structure -C-C-C-C-C-C- etc. Anything hanging off that centre chain that is not a hydrogen atom is a side group.

Entry: 83

A chemical bond formed by the direct "Head-to-Head" overlap of two atomic orbitals. I don't think I actually want to get into this , but the two bonds in a double bond are not the same; one is a sigma bond and is considerably stronger than the second one, which is a pi-bond formed by the indirect overlap of two atomic orbitals....

Entry: 84

Significant figures
If you measure one side of a cube with a ruler marked in cm and find it is 26 cm long, then its volume should be 17576 cm3, right? Wrong! You have only put two meaningful digits into your calculation - the cube could be anywhere from about 25.50001 to 26.49999 cm long on a side, and if you say it has a volume of 17576 cm3 you are claiming accuracy that you don't really have. The correct answer is 1.8 × 104, keeping the same number of meaningful digits in the answer as you started with. The proper name for 'meaningful digit' is 'significant figure'.

Entry: 197

A soap is a type of surfactant that is derived from the saponification reaction (hydrolysis) of a vegetable oil. A soap has a carboxylate group on the end which can form a complex with calcium ions in hard water. (This causes soaps to form precipiates giving rise to a "soap scum".) Soaps are often called fatty acid salts. Common soaps are:

sodium oleate (from olive oil) and
sodium palmitate (from palm oil).

Entry: 126

Sodium dodecyl sulfate
Sodium dodecyl sulfate is one of the most common surfactants. It can also called be called sodium lauryl sulfate, depending on whether it is made from petrochemicals (dodecyl) or plants (lauryl). But they're the same molecule:

sodium dodecyl sulfate

Entry: 88

Specific heat
The amount of heat required to raise one kilogram of a substance 1 degree in temperature.

Entry: 196

Starch is the main source of food energy for most of the world's human population. It can be considered to be a condensation polymer of glucose, like cellulose, although the ether linkages in starch are different to those in cellulose. Starch may be highly branched (amylopectin) or relatively unbranched (amylose).

Entry: 135

The geometry of molecules, and the arrangement of their constituent atoms in space, is the subject matter of stereochemistry. What does that actually mean? In the nomenclature section, you will have encountered isomers with the same chemical formula but with the atoms arranged in a different order - such as the various forms of pentane. You will also have met cis and trans isomers of alkenes - these are compounds with the atoms in the same order, but with a different geometry and are simple examples of stereoisomers. A good general rule to follow is that any compound with a carbon centre bearing four different substituents can exist in different stereoisomers; such a carbon is called a chiral centre. The original (and still one of the best) examples of stereoisomerism are the two forms of tartaric acid, discovered by Louis Pasteur. It can be hard to see from a picture, so if you can you should try to make models of the two species below and you will discover that they are not the same at all...

Entry: 193

Any effect that is caused simply by a chemical group physically getting in the way, rather than by any particular properties of that group, is called a steric effect. A good definition to keep in mind (Organic Chemistry, John McMurry , 1988) is that steric strain is the result of trying to force two objects to occupy the same space. Here is an interesting example of a steric effect.

Entry: 194

If you can spell this word, you're a real chemist. To paraphrase the IUPAC definition, stoichiometry is the relationship between the amounts of reactants reacted and the amounts of products produced. An equation that says that "Two moles of X reacts with one mole of Y to make three moles of Z" is a stoichiometric equation. We have rarely known anyone to use this word when they were not showing off.

Entry: 182

In the science called rheology (the study of how materials flow and deform), stress is the force applied to a material and strain is the resulting movement of the material. A simple practical exercise is to measure the length of a rubber band 'at rest', then suspend an object of known weight from it (stress) and measure the change in its length (strain). Try adding bigger and bigger weights, and you may discover something originally discovered by Sir Isaac Newton.

Entry: 183

One of the most common monomers used to make chain-growth polymers. It also seems to be the one that everyone studies lots: 'If it works for styrene it must be true for all monomers...' (famous trap).


Entry: 86

Sulfuric Acid
H2SO4 A strong acid - in water, it decomposes completely to H+ and HSO4- ions; with a little more prompting, HSO4- can be persuaded to give H+ and SO42-. When I was young, I had quite a bitter disagreement with a friend of mine about whether the element from which its name arises ought to be spelled "sulfur" or "sulphur" (IUPAC comes down firmly on the side of "sulfur"). We eventually reached a compromise, and for many years I stuck to a spelling of "sulfhur" which miraculously passed uncorrected through several years of laboratory practical reports.

Entry: 103

From SURFace ACTive AgeNT. A substance which prefers to exist at the boundary between two other substances - for example, detergents have one end highly soluble in greasy, non-polar susbtances and one end soluble in water. Sodium dodecyl sulfate is a common surfactant. See also emulsifier.

Entry: 87

A mixture of two substances where small pieces of a solid are suspended in a liquid - for example, milk (blobs of fat and protein floating in water) and orange juice (chunks of plant floating in water).

Entry: 89

Synthetic Rubber
Any synthetic polymer that mimics the properties of natural rubber. One of the earliest was ABS (Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene) rubber, a copolymer containing long segments of each of those three monomers.

Entry: 90

According to some kind of system. It does not have to be particularly logical- for example, consistently naming chemicals you don't like after people you don't like would be an example of systematic, but irrational, nomenclature.

Entry: 152

This is a word that is frequently misunderstood. Let us say we have a collection of observations ('facts') about something - it preferentially absorbs certain wavelengths of light, is composed largely of oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, calcium and phosphorus in certain proportions, and absorbs oxygen from the environment while releasing carbon dioxide. A theory is a way of explaining at these observations that allows us to make additional predictions about the behaviour of the system. If these predictions are right, we have a theory that is good enough for now. If they are not, we have to change our theory or claim that the additional observations were flawed. For example, the something in our example may be a frog; we could try poking it with a stick to see if it undergoes saltatory motion. If it does, we could claim that as a victory for our theory. If it doesn't, we could claim that some frogs will not jump if poked with sticks, or that our measuring equipment was not senstive enough to pick up the motion of what was undoubtedly a frog.

Entry: 184

Thermal Cracking
A form of cracking that simply uses heat to break up the molecules. The crude oil is heated to 750 to 900 °C in the absence of oxygen and the molecules break up to give free-radicals, which start falling apart and rearranging themselves. Catalytic cracking can be done at much lower temperatures, but generates different products from the decomposition of the crude oil.

Entry: 117

The word 'thermodynamic' comes from roots that mean 'heat' and 'motion'. In a chemical reaction where chemical bonds rearrange to give more stable products, the energy that was stored in the bonds will be released as heat. In many chemical reactions where there are a number of possible products, one will be the most stable (give the greatest release of heat) - this will be the thermodynamic product. This might not be the product that is actually formed, since another possible product might be formed more rapidly - the kinetic product. Try this dodgy example.

Entry: 185

A polymer that, when heated ('thermo') becomes soft and deformable ('plastic'). Examples are poly(styrene) and poly(ethylene)...

Entry: 239

A polymer that, when heated ('thermo') does not become soft and deformable. This is usually because it is crosslinked, and the molecules compriising it cannot move past one another unless chemical bonds are actually broken - which leads to the decomposition of the polymer. Phenol-formaldehyde resin is an example.

Entry: 240

Also called a mercaptan. A carbon compound containing the -SH functional group. Mercaptans are responsible for the distinctive odour of cat urine.

Entry: 91

The non-systematic name for methylbenzene, like so:

Entry: 92

Triolein is the principal component of olive oil. Triolein is a triglyceride -- it consists of glycerol with three ester linkages. It may be hydrolysed (breaking the ester linkages) to form oleate ions in a saponification reaction.

Entry: 119

Any enthusiastic admirer of the Slovenian guitarist Wenceslas Trypto. Actually, it is an amino acid with the useful property of aborbing ultraviolet light, helping to make proteins visible to detectors in chromatographs. Some vitamin suppliers call it "the natural alternative to Prozac". Tryptophan's biochemical symbol is T and it looks like this:

Entry: 154

Tungstic acid comes in two forms - ortho tungstic acid, which is H2WO4, and meta tungstic acid, which is H2W4O13·9H2O. The tungstate anion is WO42-.

Entry: 187

This stands for "und so weiter" which is German for 'et cetera'. It is pronounced "Oont Zoh Vyter" and lends a nice air of Teutonic gravity to any statement about polymers.

Entry: 93

Value-added Industries
Digging stuff up and doing something to it so you can sell it for more than stuff you just dig up and sell. What we should be aiming to do more of for Australia's economy.

Entry: 94

Van der Waals Forces
Attractive forces acting between uncharged molecules. There are three kinds: (1) Dipole-dipole forces (2) Dipole-induced dipole forces (3) Dispersion Forces. Named after Johannes Diderik van der Waals (1837-1923).

Entry: 95

Vatican city
Actually not a member of OPEC. If anyone says it is you will know that they stole their information from us before we added this disclaimer.

Entry: 192

Vinyl Acetate
A common monomer used to make chain-growth polymers.

vinyl acetate

Entry: 97

Vinyl Chloride
One of the most common monomers used to make chain-growth polymers. Here is a picture:

One of the few legitimate arguments against PVC in a country like Australia is that making it involves shipping this potent carcinogen from place to place in trucks.

Entry: 96

Any fatty substance that is a relatively hard, brittle, and non-greasy at room temperature. Most waxes, whether derived from mineral, vegerable, or animal sources, are a mixture of relatively high molecular weight (more than thirty carbons) hydrocarbons, esters, alcohols, and carboxylic acids.

Entry: 188

The non-systematic name for dimethylbenzene, like so:

Entry: 98

Any of a number of species of single-celled fungus. Most important are the Saccharomyces spp., which are used in bread making and beer brewing...

Entry: 142

A class of minerals that are 'hydrated aluminosilicates'. An aluminosilicate is where some of the Si atoms in silica (which has the perfectly reasonable chemical formula SiO4) are replaced with aluminium, giving an excess negative charge. 'hydrated' means that water is strongly associated with these materials by hydrogen bonding. Lastly, a positively charged 'counter-ion' is needed to balance the negative charge on the zeolite. Zeolites are extremely porous materials, with a regular internal structure of cavities of defined size and shape.

Entry: 189

Ziegler-Natta catalyst
A compound containing a metal-carbon bond that can be used to make highly ordered, high density polymers by a chain-growth mechanism. A typical Ziegler-Natta catalyst is the compound formed in situ between titanium trichloride and diethylaluminium chloride, picture below:

These catalysts are named after two famous polymer chemists named, strangely enough, Ziegler and Natta. You can find out much more than you ever wanted to know about them at the Macrogalleria.

Entry: 99

'Zwitter' is german for 'hybrid', and zwitterions are chemical species that manage to be both cations and anions at the same time. How can this come about? Consider ammonium acetate (NH4CH3COO). It is a perfectly ordinary salt, and when dissolved in water splits into its two constituent ions, NH4+ and CH3COO-. These ions will be able to approach quite close to each other in solution, but there will be no transfer of charge from one to another because of the 'shell' of water around each one. In fact, there is no reason we can't have a molecule where there is a physical bridge joining these two ions - for example, a CH2 group. The resulting species is a zwitterion, the ionised form of the amino acid glycine, and it is in this form that glycine exists when dissolved in water at a neutral pH.

Entry: 190