Welcome to the first blog post on Polymers from FOC.  If you begin following me on Twitter, you will read many insights on FOC’s different specialty products that I manage.  I titled this first blog “everything you ever wanted to know in Randall’s World” but hope you enjoy many future views into my world of unique materials and solutions.

Now, Polymers….

Polymer (/ˈpɒlɨmər/[2][3]) (Greek poly-, “many” + -mer, “parts”) is a large molecule composed of many repeated subunits.  Schmatically rendered by chemists and engineers like this:









And artists such as Jackson Pollack like this:


Polymers range from familiar synthetic plastics such as polycarbonate to the natural biopolymer DNA.  Silicone is the polymer that utilizes alternating silicon (Si) and oxygen (O) atoms as the repeating subunit to make flexible materials that caulk bath tubs and helped send Voyager to interstellar space.

Polymers owe their versatility to the large number of combinations and substitutions that can be made in the basic assembly of the molecule.   In the case of silicones, the obvious feature of flexibility is attributed to the relatively large amount of rotation possible between the silicon and oxygen atoms that make up the molecule’s backbone (see diagram below).  The length of this backbone causes the material to be high or low in viscosity:  the longer the backbone the higher the viscosity due to greater entanglement of the long chain lengths (like spaghetti).


In the schematic the tomatoes represent placeholders for combinations of atoms that proffer further properties.  The following table shows some of the different possibilities for the tomato groups and the resulting changes in the physical properties:


Every chemist I’ve ever known is an excellent cook, and anyone who’s cooked knows cooking is a lot like chemistry.   So I like the food analogies.  Here’s the easy take away message from the above.  Polymers are like spaghetti - the spaghetti is the silicon-oxygen backbone, and the secret sauce is in the tomato groups.




Follow Randall @PolymerExprtFOC


Randall Elgin

About Randall Elgin

Randall Elgin, Business Development, Specialty Products, Technical Sales Randall started her career at Fiber Optic Center (FOC) in February 2010 as a technical specialist in encapsulation materials for optical applications. Since then she has worked with new materials, optical and otherwise, that enable high tech applications in the photonics industry. She regularly attends the photonics exhibitions in the US and Europe. Randall joined FOC from Nusil, where she spent 5 years working on the encapsulation issues for Solid State Lighting. Prior to that she spent 3 years at Lightspan in Wareham, MA, learning about and supporting emerging optical applications. Before Lightspan, she was an electrical engineer for 17 years at Sippican Ocean Systems in Marion, MA. Randall graduated from Boston University in 1984 with a Masters in Electrical Engineering. She and her husband reside outside New Bedford where they built a super energy efficient home, enjoy rural living and take in the New Bedford and Boston classical music scenes. Follow Randall through her twitter posts: @ImprintExptFOC @OKPExpert_FOC @PolymerExprtFOC