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The Chemistry of Polymers

The Chemistry of Polymers

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The Chemistry of Polymers

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384 pages
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Jan 16, 2017


The Chemistry of Polymers, 5th Edition, is fully updated with the latest developments in polymer science providing a highly readable textbook for those requiring a broad overview of the subject.

Like previous editions, the book continues to explore the subject from an applications point of view, providing a comprehensive introduction to all aspects of polymer science including synthesis, structure, properties, degradation and dendrimers. Recent advances in special topics in polymer chemistry and polymers and the environment are also discussed in an informative and up-to-date manner.

The new edition features additional content on recent developments in new polymer synthesis techniques including reversible addition-fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) polymerization, atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP) and ring-opening metathesis polymerization (ROMP). The book also contains new content on the latest developments in polymer characterisation methods as well as applications of polymers including co-ordination polymers and lithium-polymer batteries.

The book is essential reading for university students, teachers and scientists who wish to acquire an up-to-the-minute overview of polymer science and its many specialised topics in an informative and easy to read style.

Jan 16, 2017

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The Chemistry of Polymers - John W Nicholson

The Chemistry of Polymers

5th Edition

The Chemistry of Polymers

5th Edition

John W. Nicholson

Bluefield Centre for Biomaterials Ltd., London, UK

Print ISBN: 978-1-78262-832-3

EPUB eISBN: 978-1-78801-114-3

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

© John W. Nicholson 2017

All rights reserved.

Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study, or criticism or review as permitted under the terms of the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, this publication may not be reproduced, stored or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of The Royal Society of Chemistry, or in the case of reprographic reproduction only in accordance with the terms of the licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency in the UK, or in accordance with the terms of the licences issued by the appropriate Reproduction Rights Organization outside the UK. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside the terms stated here should be sent to The Royal Society of Chemistry at the address printed on this page.

Whilst this material has been produced with all due care, The Royal Society of Chemistry cannot be held responsible or liable for its accuracy and completeness, nor for any consequences arising from any errors or the use of the information contained in this publication. The publication of advertisements does not constitute any endorsement by The Royal Society of Chemistry or Authors of any products advertised. The views and opinions advanced by contributors do not necessarily reflect those of The Royal Society of Chemistry which shall not be liable for any resulting loss or damage arising as a result of reliance upon this material.

The Royal Society of Chemistry is a charity, registered in England and Wales, Number 207890, and a company incorporated in England by Royal Charter (Registered No. RC000524), registered office: Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BA, UK, Telephone: +44 (0) 207 4378 6556.

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Printed in the United Kingdom by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY, UK

Preface to First Edition

This book seeks to introduce readers to the chemistry of polymers. It is aimed primarily at new graduates who have not previously studied polymer chemistry as part of their degree course, but it ought to prove useful to others as well. I hope that final year students studying polymer chemistry and more experienced chemists in industry looking for concise information on the subject will find their needs met as well.

In preparing this book I have attempted to do two distinct things: (i) to provide a brief, readable introduction to the chemistry of polymers and (ii) to emphasise the applied aspects of the scientific knowledge presented. I believe that any introductory book ought to be written in a way that encourages its proposed audience actually to read it. Also as an applied scientist myself I want to emphasise the applications of polymer chemistry since I believe that these are worth covering in a book of this type.

No book, however brief, is the product of just one person. In my own case, I have been very conscious of the help I have received from many sources. These include authors of those books on polymer chemistry that I have drawn on in preparing this one, all of which are listed in the Bibliography.

I also want to give special thanks to my colleague Eleanor Wasson for her generous assistance in reading the entire manuscript and for her numerous helpful suggestions.

Lastly I thank my wife Suzette for her forbearance and support during my involvement with this project. Her good-natured tolerance of my frequent absence from family life has considerably assisted me in the completion of this book.

John Nicholson

Preface to Second Edition

The first edition of this book was, with one or two exceptions, gratifyingly well received by reviewers. It also sold well, thus confirming my belief that there is, indeed, place for an introductory book biased towards the more applied aspects of polymer science. It has been translated into Polish, suggesting that this need is international. Although it was not intended as a textbook for undergraduates, I have discovered that the first edition has been used for that purpose in certain universities, a point I have borne in mind in preparing the current edition.

In this second edition, I have stuck very much to the approach and level of the first edition, making changes only where absolutely necessary. In some cases this has been done to widen the coverage; in others it has been done to bring the text up to date. In making these changes, I have been helped by individuals who wrote to me after the publication of the first edition, with corrections or suggestions for additional material; I acknowledge my sincere gratitude for their help.

Despite this help, and the success of the first edition, I am sure that, even now, the book is not perfect. I am therefore still open to suggestions about how it could be improved. In the meantime, I take full responsibility for all the errors and infelicities that remain.

John Nicholson

Preface to Third Edition

The continuing success of this book has necessitated a further revision to bring it up to date. The main chapters have not been altered, but I have introduced new material into chapters 10 and 11, and I have also added a completely new chapter, number 9, to deal with the rapidly developing subject of dendrimers. Though what I have said here is, of necessity, brief it does draw attention to the existence of these materials and to the major ways in which they differ from conventional linear polymers.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank those readers who have written to me in the past to draw my attention to inaccuracies or ambiguities in the previous editions. May I invite readers of this new edition to consider doing the same? No book is perfect, but with your help, I can at least ensure that this one is the best it can be.

Lastly, once again I wish to acknowledge the support of my wife Suzette during the time I have devoted to the revision of this book. As ever, such an addition to my workload has only been possible because of her help, and I am deeply grateful to her for it.

John Nicholson

University of Greenwich at Medway

Preface to Fourth Edition

Once again, I have had the opportunity of revising and updating this book, for which I express my gratitude to the publishers. As in previous editions, the essential parts of the fundamental chapters have not been altered, but some of the later chapters have been updated. In particular, I have added brief introductory sections on the important topics of polymers for drug delivery and on green polymerisation. I have also added sections on the so-called RAFT and ATRP polymerisation processes, both of which are radical-based living polymerisations and which are of growing importance in the field of polymer synthesis.

As with the three prevision editions of this book, I acknowledge that carrying out the work of the current revision would not have been possible without the kind support of my wife Suzette, to whom I remain as indebted as ever.

John Nicholson

University of Greenwich at Medway

Preface to the Fifth Edition

I continue to be gratified by the success of this little book and was delighted when the publishers approached me to prepare a 5th edition. As before, I have updated key sections, for example those dealing with pollution by polymers and I have also added new sections, notably on Ring-Opening Methathesis Polymerisation and on MALDI mass spectrometry.

I appreciate the support of various people in preparing this book, in particular my wife Suzette, and also the various people who have commented on previous editions. Their remarks have prompted some of the changes and corrections in the current edition. With this help, I hope that this book continues to be a readable and useful introduction to the broad field of polymer chemistry.

John Nicholson



1Polymer Chemistry

1.1 Basic Concepts

1.2 The History of the Concept of the Macromolecule

1.3 Classification of Polymers

1.4 Structure and Properties of Polymers

2Polymerisation Reactions

2.1 Chain Polymerisation

2.2 Arrangement of Monomer Units

2.3 Kinetics of Chain Polymerisation

2.4 Autoacceleration

2.5 Practical Methods of Chain Polymerisation

2.6 Other Chain Polymerisation Mechanisms

2.7 Recent Developments in Living Polymerisation

2.8 Step Polymerisation

2.9 Step Polymerisation with Polyfunctional Monomers

2.10 Copolymerisation

3Polymer Structure

3.1 Polymer Stereochemistry

3.2 Polymer Crystallinity

3.3 Thermal and Mechanical Properties


4.1 Introduction

4.2 Phenol–Formaldehyde Resins

4.3 Unsaturated Polyester Resins

4.4 Polyurethanes

4.5 Epoxy Resins

5Polymer Solutions

5.1 Introduction

5.2 Dissolution of Polymers

5.3 Solubility Parameters

5.4 Simple Liquid Mixtures and Raoult's Law

5.5 Entropy of Mixing

5.6 Real Molecules in Dilute Solution

5.7 Shapes of Polymer Molecules in Solution

5.8 Reptation Model of Molecular Motion

5.9 Water-soluble Polymers

5.10 Uses of High-viscosity Polymer Solutions

5.11 Polymer Melts

6Methods of Determining Relative Molar Mass

6.1 Introduction

6.2 Molar Masses from Colligative Properties

6.3 Light Scattering

6.4 Viscosity Methods of Determining Relative Molar Mass

6.5 End Group Analysis

6.6 Gel Permeation Chromatography

6.7 MALDI Mass Spectrometry

7Mechanical Properties of Polymers

7.1 Introduction

7.2 Stress, Strain, and Young's Modulus

7.3 Brittle and Tough Fracture

7.4 Types of Strength

7.5 The Influence of Surfaces

7.6 Viscoelasticity

7.7 Creep and Stress Relaxation

7.8 Cold Drawing

7.9 Dynamic Tests

7.10 Time/Temperature Relationship

7.11 Rubberlike Elasticity

7.12 Reinforced Polymers

7.13 Practical Measurements of Mechanical Properties

Further Reading

8Polymer Degradation

8.1 Introduction

8.2 Behaviour of Polymers in Fires

8.3 Assessment of Combustion Behaviour

8.4 Improvement of Stability of Polymers in Fires

8.5 Weathering of Polymers

8.6 Protection of Polymers From Photo-oxidation

8.7 Biological Degradation of Polymers

8.8 Exploitation of Polymer Degradation

8.9 Polymer Light Emitting Diodes


9.1 Introduction

9.2 Organic Dendrimers

9.3 Supramolecular Dendrimers

9.4 Shapes and Conformations of Dendrimers

9.5 Dendrimer Micelles

9.6 Characterization of Dendrimers

9.7 Applications of Dendrimers

9.8 Megamers

Further Reading

10 Special Topics in Polymer Chemistry

10.1 Introduction

10.2 Polymers in Medicine

10.3 Ionomers

10.4 Electronically Conducting Polymers

10.5 Interpenetrating Polymer Networks

10.6 Inorganic Polymers

10.7 Polymer Liquid Crystals

10.8 Polymers for Food Packaging

10.9 Polymers for Controlled Drug Delivery

10.10 Lithium–Polymer Batteries

10.11 Co-ordination Polymers

Further Reading

11 Polymers and the Environment

11.1 Introduction

11.2 Pollution by Polymers

11.3 The Nature of the Problem

11.4 Polymers and Energy

11.5 Recycling of Polymers

11.6 Degradable Polymers

11.7 Green Polymerisation

11.8 The Future

Further Reading


Subject Index

1 Polymer Chemistry

1.1 Basic Concepts

A polymer is a large molecule built up from numerous smaller molecules. These large molecules may be linear, slightly branched, or highly interconnected. In the latter case the structure develops into a large three-dimensional network.

The small molecules used as the basic building blocks for these large molecules are known as monomers. For example the commercially important material poly(vinyl chloride) is made from the monomer vinyl chloride. The repeat unit in the polymer usually corresponds to the monomer from which the polymer was made. There are exceptions to this, though. Poly(vinyl alcohol) is formally considered to be made up of vinyl alcohol (CH2CHOH) repeat units but there is, in fact, no such monomer as vinyl alcohol. The appropriate molecular unit exists in the alternative tautomeric form, ethanal CH3CHO. To make this polymer, it is necessary first to prepare poly(vinyl ethanoate) from the monomer vinyl ethanoate, and then to hydrolyse the product to yield the polymeric alcohol.

The size of a polymer molecule may be defined either by its mass (see Chapter 6) or by the number of repeat units in the molecule. This latter indicator of size is called the degree of polymerisation, DP. The relative molar mass of the polymer is thus the product of the relative molar mass of the repeat unit and the DP.

There is no clear cut boundary between polymer chemistry and the rest of chemistry. As a very rough guide, molecules of relative molar mass of at least 1000 or a DP of at least 100 are considered to fall into the domain of polymer chemistry.

The vast majority of polymers in commercial use are organic in nature, that is they are based on covalent compounds of carbon. This is also true of the silicones which, though based on silicon-oxygen backbones, also generally contain significant proportions of hydrocarbon groups. The other elements involved in polymer chemistry most commonly include hydrogen, oxygen, chlorine, fluorine, phosphorus, and sulfur, i.e. those elements which are able to form covalent bonds, albeit of some polarity, with carbon.

As is characteristic of covalent compounds, in addition to primary valence forces, polymer molecules are also subject to various secondary intermolecular forces. These include dipole forces between oppositely charged ends of polar bonds and dispersion forces which arise due to perturbations of the electron clouds about individual atoms within the polymer molecule. Hydrogen bonding, which arises from the particularly intense dipoles associated with hydrogen atoms attached to electronegative elements such as oxygen or nitrogen, is important in certain polymers, notably proteins. Hydrogen bonds have the effect of fixing the molecule in a particular orientation. These fixed structures are essential for the specific functions that proteins have in the biochemical processes of life.

1.2 The History of the Concept of the Macromolecule

Modern books about polymer chemistry explain that the word polymer is derived from the Greek words ‘poly’ meaning many and ‘meros’ meaning part. They often then infer that it follows that this term applies to giant molecules built up of large numbers of interconnected monomer units. In fact this is misleading since historically the word polymer was coined for other reasons. The concept of polymerism was originally applied to the situation in which molecules had identical empirical formulae but very different chemical and physical properties. For example, benzene (C6H6; empirical formula CH) was considered to be a polymer of acetylene (C2H2; empirical formula also CH). Thus the word ‘polymer’ is to be found in textbooks of organic chemistry published up to about 1920 but not with its modern meaning.

The situation is confused, however, by the case of certain chemicals. Styrene, for example, was known from the mid-nineteenth century as a clear organic liquid of characteristic pungent odour. It was also known to convert itself under certain circumstances into a clear resinous solid that was almost odour-free, this resin then being called metastyrene. The formation of metastyrene from styrene was described as a polymerisation and metastyrene was held to be a polymer of styrene. However, these terms applied only in the sense that there was no change in empirical formula despite the very profound alteration in chemical and physical properties. There was no understanding of the cause of this change and certainly the chemists of the time had no idea of what had happened to the styrene that was remotely akin to the modern view of polymerisation.

Understanding of the fundamental nature of those materials now called polymers had to wait until the 1920s, when Herman Staudinger coined the word ‘macromolecule’ and thus clarified thinking. There was no ambiguity about this new term – it meant ‘large molecule’, again from the Greek, and these days is used almost interchangeably with the word polymer. Strictly speaking, though, the words are not synonymous. There is no reason in principle for a macromolecule to be composed of repeating structural units; in practice, however, they usually are. Staudinger’s concept of macromolecules was not at all well received at first. His wife once recalled that he had ‘encountered opposition in all his lectures’. Typical of this opposition was that of one distinguished organic chemist who declared that it was as if zoologists ‘were told that somewhere in Africa an elephant was found who was 1500 feet long and 300 feet high’.

There were essentially three reasons for this opposition. Firstly, many macromolecular compounds in solution behave as colloids. Hence they were assumed to be identical with the then known inorganic colloids. This in turn implied that they were not macromolecular at all, but were actually composed of small molecules bound together by ill-defined secondary forces. Such thinking led the German chemist C. D. Harries to pursue the search for the ‘rubber molecule’ in the early years of the twentieth century. He used various mild degradations of natural rubber, which he believed would destroy the colloidal character of the material and yield its constituent molecules, which were assumed to be fairly small. He was, of course, unsuccessful.

The second reason for opposition to Staudinger’s hypothesis was that it meant the loss of the concept of a single formula for a single compound. Macromolecules had to be written in the form (CH2CHX)n, where n was a large number. Moreover, no means were available, or indeed are available, for discretely separating molecules where n=100 from those where n=101. Any such attempted fractionation always gives a distribution of values of n and, even if the mean value of a fraction is actually n=100, there are significant numbers of molecules of n=99, n=101, and so on. Now the concept of one compound, one formula, with one formula being capable of both physical (i.e. spatial) and chemical interpretation, had been developed slowly and at some cost, with many long, hard-fought battles. Organic chemists could not easily throw it out, particularly in view of the fact that it had been so conspicuously successful with much of the rest of organic chemistry.

The third reason for opposition lay in the nature of many of the polymeric materials then known. Not only were they apparently ill-characterised, but they were also frequently non-crystalline, existing as gums and resins. Just the sort of unpromising media, in fact, from which dextrous organic chemists had become used to extracting crystalline substances of well characterised physical and chemical properties. To accept such resins as inherently non-crystallisable and not capable of purification in the traditional sense of the word was too much for the self-esteem of many professional organic chemists.

Staudinger’s original paper opposing the prevalent colloidal view of certain organic materials was published in 1920 and contained mainly negative evidence. Firstly, he showed that the organic substances retained their colloidal nature in all solvents in which they dissolve; by contrast, inorganic colloids lose their colloidal character when the solvent is changed. Secondly, contrary to what would have been expected, colloidal character was able to survive chemical modification of the original substance.

By about 1930 Staudinger and others had accumulated much evidence in favour of the macromolecular hypothesis. The final part in establishing the concept was carried out by Wallace Carothers of the Du Pont company in the USA. He began his work in 1929 and stated at the outset that the aim was to prepare polymers of definite structure through the use of established organic reactions. Though his personal life was tragic, Carothers was an excellent chemist who succeeded brilliantly in his aim. By the end of his work he had not only demonstrated the relationship between structure and properties for a number of polymers, but he had invented materials of tremendous commercial importance, including neoprene rubber and the nylons.

1.3 Classification of Polymers

There are a number of methods of classifying polymers. One is to adopt the approach of using their response to thermal treatment and to divide them into thermoplastics and thermosets. Thermoplastics are polymers which melt when heated and resolidify when cooled, while thermosets are those which do not melt when heated but, at sufficiently high temperatures, decompose irreversibly. This system has the benefit that there is a useful chemical distinction between the two groups. Thermoplastics comprise essentially linear or lightly branched polymer molecules, while thermosets

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