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Technical Glossary Polymers


Long molecular chains connected by covalent bonds are called polymers. Carbon forms covalent bonds with other carbon atoms creating chains (catenation: bonding of atoms of the same element) which results in polyethylene and many other polymers. Most polymers derive from carbon or hydrogen atoms, but other elements, such as oxygen, nitrogen, and silicon are also capable of building polymeric frameworks.
Polymers in organisms, such as proteins, nucleic acids, and cellulose, have important functions as structural materials, DNA carriers, and catalysts. Polymers have been used by humans since time immemorial, but the scientific concept was first elucidated by Hermann Staudinger in the 1920s.
The linking of individual molecules to form polymers is called a polymerization reaction. There are several kinds of polymerization, including addition polymerization, condensation polymerization, and ring-opening polymerization. Synthetic polymers are subject to molecular weight distribution, and their viscosity and thermal characteristics differ greatly from those of low-molecular-weight compounds.

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