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Macromolecules are
big molecules containing large numbers of atoms;
made up from large numbers of small identical or similar molecules.
When large numbers of small identical molecules join together to form a big molecule:
the small molecules are called monomers;
the big molecule is called a polymer;
the process is called polymerisation.
There are two groups of macromolecules or polymers
1. synthetic or man-made polymers. These are often known as plastics
2. natural polymers such as haemoglobin, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, etc. These
macromolecules are important substances that make up all plants and animals.

Synthetic Polymers
Addition Polymers
One of the simplest man made polymers is poly(ethylene), commonly known as polythene. It is
made from the monomer ethene.

The formula for polyethene is simply written as :

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Comparison of ethene and polyethene

Other Addition Polymers and their uses

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Condensation Polymers
In condensation polymerisation,
usually two types of monomer molecules join together to form one big molecule, and
water molecules are removed.
Two common examples of condensation polymers are Nylon and Terylene.

The linkage joining up the units of nylon are called amide linkages .

Nylon is used for ropes, tents and raincoats, because it is strong but light, and can be
stretched without breaking.

Terylene is another polymer made from two types of monomers . One polymer is an alcohol and the
other an acid.
The two monomers can be written simply as

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The monomer molecules in terylene are joined together by ester linkages, so terylene is a polyester,
because it has many ester linkages.

Terylene is made into fibres which are then woven into cloth, which is made into clothes. It lasts
longer and keeps its shape better. It is also easy to wash and dry.

Plastics & Pollution

All man-made polymers such as polythene and nylon are plastics. Plastics are very common and
useful, used for making plastic bags, water pipes, ropes, clothing, buckets, paints and glues.
Characteristics and properties of plastic materials :
Plastics can easily be moulded into a wide variety of shapes
They are light.
They are corrosion resistant and durable
Plastics are relatively cheap
They are used to make plastic glue and water absorbents for baby diapers
Disadvantages of plastics:
Most plastics burn and are , therefore, a fire risk
Plastics also produce poisonous gases when they burn
Plastics are resistant to corrosion, therefore plastic objects are difficult to dispose of.. Most
plastics are non- biodegradable , they are not decomposed by bacteria in the ground

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Natural Polymers
They are important substances found in plants and animals. They are also found in Food, which is
mainly made up of three types of natural polymers: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats .
Proteins are polymers made up from monomers called amino acids There are about 20 different
amino acids .The amino acids are joined together by an amide link as in nylon.
When protein food enters the stomach, the hydrochloric acid there acts as a catalyst to make the
protein react with water. The reaction is called hydrolysis. Hydrolysis breaks down amino acids.

Carbohydrates are polymers made up of small sugar molecules joined together. An example of a
carbohydrate is starch. Carbohydrates can be hydrolysed with water to give glucose, C6H12O6. The
sugar molecules can be separated and identified by chromatography.

Fats are big molecules of esters. They are made up of an alcohol with three OH groups and big
acid molecules. The acid molecules contain about 16 carbon atoms each. Fats can be hydrolysed to
make soap. When fat is boiled with sodium hydroxide solution, the products are the sodium salts of
the acids, which are used to make soap, and the three OH alcohol called glycerol.
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