Dress up in polymers
When you hear the words fashion and beauty, chemistry is probably not the first things that comes to mind. The fact is, however, that chemistry has played a major role in man’s hunt for improved appearance. Take all the skin care products, for example. There is much chemistry going on behind these, as they are supposed to have softening, moisturizing and sometimes even ”anti-aging” properties. Smelling good is also something that is closely connected to chemistry, as perfumes are composed of different molecules with varying structure in order to generate various scents. Combining chemistry and textiles is something that has caught a lot of attention lately. Why not let a nice sweater also have cooling properties on a hot summer day? Why not let your fancy curtains glow as the room becomes dark in the evening? Indeed, chemistry has found and will continue to find new and exciting uses in today’s modern society!
WHAT IS A POLYMER?
A polymer is a chemical compound that consists of many repeating smaller units, so called monomers. You can think of a polymer as a necklace, where each pearl is a monomer. Depending on which type of monomer and in which order and how the monomers are put together, the polymer can have different properties. Several Nobel prizes in Chemistry have been awarded to scientists working in the field of polymers. In 1953, Hermann Staudinger received the Prize for showing that polymers exist. In 1974, the Prize was awarded to Paul Flory for, among other things, his studies on how a polymer is formed. In 2000, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Alan J. Heeger, Alan G. MacDiarmid och Hideki Shirakawa for their discovery that plastics can conduct electricity. Polymer science is clearly an exciting research field, and there is still much activity going on.
Plastics are a form of synthetic polymer. By varying the type of monomer that builds up the polymer and by “attaching” various molecule groups on the polymer chain, the material can have very different properties. Plastics can be soft, hard, water soluble, water proof, elastic and endure high temperatures. Because of this, plastics have found a variety of uses in a number of different types of industry, such as packaging, building and automotive industry.
Nylon is another example of a synthetic polymer that is formed in the interface between two different liquids. The solutions contain hexamethylenediamine and sodium hydroxide in water, and sebacoyl chloride in hexane. A continuous reaction is the result and the product is a long polymer chain.
In every cell in the body, there is a natural polymer in the form of DNA, our genetic code. DNA is build of millions of nitrogen bases, that together form the characteristic DNA helix. The DNA codes for all the proteins in our bodies. These proteins are also biopolymers, as they consist of a combination of 20 different amino acids that together for a single, long chain.
Silk is another natural polymer, that is formed by the larvae of the silk worm, as they spin cocoons out of a long single strand of silk thread. Silk is known for its luster, appearing to have different colors depending on which angle you look at it. This is due to the triangular shape of the fiber. When light hits the polymers, it spreads at different angles It is also an elastic material that can be stretched and then will recover to its original size.
GoreTex is a special membrane that consists of a network of the polymer Teflon, also called polytetrafluroethylene, PTFE. The structure of this network forms tiny pores allowing water to pass only in the form of vapor. Water droplets, which are considerably larger than single water molecules, cannot cross the membrane. This makes GoreTex able to transport sweat away from our bodies while water in the form of e.g. rain or snow is kept out. It was in 1978 that Wilbert L. Gore invented GoreTex technology and since then the interest in this type of material has increased steadily.
GoreTex is actually used not only as functional material in jackets, shoes, pants etc. It is also used as cable material in among other things submarines, printers and brain probes. Surgeons use this polymer technology to make artificial tissue due to its strong, biocompatible properties. A natural artery can be replaced by GoreTex membrane, which can deal with the high blood pressure without tearing. These are just a few examples of the different uses of GoreTex material and we can expect more clever applications in the future!
TEXTILES OF THE FUTURE
How about having a microphone in your glove, measuring your pulse and immune system with the aim of a sweater, having curtains that glow in the dark…? These are a few examples of textiles for the future already available on the market today. Research projects like Smart Textiles in Borås, Sweden, combine technology and textile material, and collaborations between many research groups will result in materials that we never would have thought of as possible...
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Happens all the time... Off to an important meeting and someone shoves you into a swimming pool. Not a problem if you're wearing a Nano-Tex Resists Spills suit, shirt and tie! This...
February: Fashion. Dress up in polymers
What is Gore-Tex and how does it work?
This is the second movie in the Chemistry Calendar 2011, a joint project between Molecular Frontiers, Chalmers University of Technology, University of Gothenburg and Universeum. We work together with film company Untamed Science to launch a video per month during the International Year of Chemistry 2011.
For teachers: Teaching material, including descriptions of lab experiments can be found in the Teachers section on MoleClues!
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