What Is Acrylic? - Definition & Chemical Composition

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

Acrylic is a polymer made up of acrylic acids or acrylates. Explore the definition and chemical composition of acrylic and learn about the types of polymers such as PAA, PMAA, and PBA. Updated: 01/19/2022

Acrylic: Definition

We have acrylic paint, acrylic nails, acrylic plastic, and many other acrylic products. So what exactly is acrylic? Acrylic is any compound that includes acrylic acid or related compounds called acrylates. Typically, the products that are called acrylic are a polymer of acrylic acids or acrylates. A polymer is a long strand of repeating sections, in this case the repeating sections are the acrylic acids or acrylates.

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  • 0:04 Acrylic Definition
  • 0:34 Chemical Structure
  • 1:36 Types of Polymers
  • 2:42 Lesson Summary
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Chemical Structure

In order to understand the structure of acrylic, we first need to examine the structures of acrylic acid and other acrylates. Acrylic acid has the chemical formula of CH2 CHCOOH. So, it is a 3-carbon compound starting with a carboxylic acid and between carbons 2 and 3 is a double bond:

Acrylic Acid Structure
Acrylic acid

Acrylic acid is a clear liquid and has a tart scent when it isn't in a polymer form.

Methyl compounds don't like having a double bond, so that double bond will easily react with each other forming a polymer in order to get rid of the double bond on the terminal carbon.

Acrylates are acrylic acid compounds where the hydrogen has been removed on the COOH group and replaced with another group. Acrylates may also have additional substituents on carbons 2 and 3. These acrylates can include:

  • Methyl Methacrylate

Methyl methacrylate

  • Butyl Acrylate

Butyl acrylate

  • Ethyl Acrylate

Ethyl Acrylate

  • Trimethylolpropane Triacrylate (TMPTA)


Types of Polymers

The different compounds are made from the different types of acrylates. For example, we can see the acrylic acid polymer here:

Purple lines indicate the new bonds that formed to bind the acrylic acid compounds together. These bonds originated with the double bonds.
Poly acrylic acid

This chain can keep going on and on until it runs out of acrylic acid compounds to react with. Polymers made from acrylic acid, called polyacrylic acid (PAA), are a super absorbent material and are used in diapers.

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