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Polymers Lesson for Kids: Definition & Facts

Instructor: Emily Lockhart

Emily has taught science and has a master's degree in education.

In this lesson, we will explore polymers, which are found everywhere, from our food to our clothes. You'll learn the definition of the term 'polymer,' and we'll look at examples of man-made and natural polymers.

What are Polymers?

Have you ever heard the tale of The Three Little Pigs? This fable shows that building a house from bricks is far better than sticks or straw. If you look closely at a brick house, you'll see that each brick is uniform. They are layered in a repeated pattern to design that house. Bricks can be used to build many structures, from sidewalks to very large buildings. There are many structures found in nature or made by humans that are made in a similar way, like polymers.

Polymers are very big molecules made up of many smaller molecules layered together in a repeating pattern. In fact, the word polymer is Greek for 'many parts.' The smaller molecules that come together to form polymers are called monomers--small units that link together over and over to form a large polymer. Think of monomers like paper clips that link together to form a chain, and the chain is a polymer.

Polymers are made of many monomers linked together.

Polymers can result in some very unique materials, both naturally occurring and man-made. Let's explore some examples of man-made and natural polymers.

Man-Made Polymers

The invention of many polymers over many generations have led to huge advancements for humanity. The paper you write on every day, for example, is a man-made polymer made from many parts of wood pulp compressed and flattened. If you looked at paper under a very powerful microscope, you would see that it's made up of smaller molecules arranged in a repeated pattern.

Paper is a man-made polymer made of many small, repeating molecules.

Plastics, like the kind found in toys and grocery bags, are another example of a polymer. They're often made from crude oil found in the ground. The oil is manufactured down to extract the small monomers that are joined together to form plastic.

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