Copolymer: Structure & Properties

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  • 0:02 What Are Copolymers?
  • 1:57 Copolymer Structure
  • 2:57 General Properties
  • 4:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

A copolymer is a type of polymer that is used in a wide variety of products, such as plastics and car tires. Learn more about copolymers and understand their different types, structures, and properties in this lesson.

What Are Copolymers?

Rubber tires, those lovely spandex tights called Spanx, and plastics all have something in common. They can be classified as a type of copolymer. A copolymer is composed of two or more different monomer subunits linked to create a polymer chain. Keep in mind that a copolymer is a type of polymer. A polymer is a large molecule that is formed from the joining together of many repeating subunits called monomers. What makes copolymers distinct is that these repeating subunits are different from one another.

There are three common types of copolymers. The first type is called a block polymer. This polymer is formed when two larger chains are linked together. One chain consists of a set of monomer subunits, and the other chain consists of a different set of monomer subunits. A great way to think of this copolymer is as the linking of two different homopolymers.

Now, I know you may be wondering, Wait a minute we have polymers, copolymers, and now homopolymers? Don't worry, the prefix 'homo-' just means 'same or identical.' Thus a homopolymer is composed of monomer subunits that are identical or the same. With a block polymer, imagine you have one homopolymer chain in your left hand and a different homopolymer chain in your right hand. When you link both of these together, a block copolymer is created.

The second type is a random copolymer. A random copolymer is formed when monomer subunits are linked together in a random order. Think of taking several monomers, tossing them in the air, and watching them land on the ground. Wherever those monomers land, when linked together, they will form a unique randomized chain. Last but not least is the third type, called an alternate copolymer. Alternate copolymers are composed of monomers that link in an alternating way to form a polymer chain. Now that we can properly define each type of copolymer, let's look at their structures.

Copolymer Structure

Because a copolymer can exist in three different types, we will categorize the structure of copolymers on the basis of block, random, and alternate. Here are the structures of each polymer.

copolymer types

Can you spot the difference between each type of copolymer? Let's first look at our friend the block polymer.

Remember we stated that a block copolymer involves taking homopolymers and linking them together. As you can see, each homopolymer is identified by a different color. The sequence of homopolymer A (orange) links with the sequence of homopolymer B (blue) to form one large chain called a block copolymer.

You can also see the structure of a random copolymer. The monomer subunits (A and B) are randomly liked together. There is no formal arrangement to placing these subunits like there is in the alternate copolymer structure. Speaking of the alternate copolymer, you will notice for its structure that monomers A and B alternate with one another in the polymer chain.

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