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Airdate: Oct 04, 2010
Scientist: Dr. Daniel A. Savin

Material Science - Making Chains

Material Science - Making Chains
Monomers, polymers - what is it that makes plastics so versatile?

Right now, wherever you are, you probably near some form of plastic. Maybe its the shell of your cell phone, the dashboard of your car, the packaging of your favorite snack. But is what is plastic, anyway? I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

DANIEL: Plastics are made form things called polymers. Polymers come from poly, which means many, and mer, which means units.

Daniel Savin as an assistant professor materials science at the University of Southern Mississippi. He says that you can think of monomers as individual beads that you can combine together in a necklace of polymers.

DANIEL: And you take these individual units which are called monomers and we can combine them together in long chains to form different polymers. For example we can take these different long chains and we can string them all together to form these long-type structures kind of like spaghetti.

And when you link the chains of polymers together, it changes the properties of the plastic you can make from those polymers.

DANIEL: The challenge of material science is to try to make materials that are more lightweight and stronger than materials out there. For example if you think about a bridge, a bridge is made of iron which is very strong so its not going to collapse but its also very heavy so its hard to move the pieces of iron around. What were trying to do is perform the same function as the bridge but make them more lightweight and make them in a cheaper way.

DANIEL: We start from the individual monomer units and when we combine together they form these different polymer chains and eventually we will make a material for example a foam material that we might want to use for say a football helmet.

Daniel Savin is one of the participating scientists in this years KSC, our free nationwide competition for third to 6th graders. Think up a new way that materials science can make sports safer or more fun and enter on Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation, I'm Jim Metzner.