Polymer chemistry is the scientific discipline that deals with long chemical chains. These long chemical chains are called polymers or macromolecules.
Sometimes this area of science is also called macromolecular chemistry. Essentially, careers in this subsector revolve around chemical synthesis (i.e. making chemicals artificially) and understanding the structure of these chemical chains.
These chains can be either synthetic (manmade) or naturally occurring. Naturally occurring polymers like starch or protein are called biopolymers. Synthetic polymers are often just referred to as polymers and include common materials such as nylon or polyester.
What do polymer chemistry careers involve?
Polymer chemistry is a major contributor to advances in industry and medicine. A large number of everyday objects have been developed directly as a result of advances in polymer chemistry, such as plastic bags, disposable contact lenses or tyres.
Careers in this area are primarily research-based and much of your time will be confined to working in a laboratory. Working on such a micro scale can be both challenging and stimulating, so you will need a strong academic background and lots of drive and ambition.
Synthetically created products often result in fewer natural resources being used in manufacturing, which can reduce costs and also have a positive impact on the obvious environmental concerns that come with the excessive use of natural resources.
However, synthetically produced goods also come with drawbacks. The nature of their composition means that they can take many years to degrade, and therefore pose their own environmental threats. In the future, though, further developments in this field may negate the problems associated with the disposal of synthetic materials.
Through extensive experimentation and observation, further advances will be achieved by developing a better understanding of the construction of these chemical chains and their properties. Through the study of biopolymers (naturally occurring chemical chains), it is possible to develop new synthetic polymers and improve current constructs. Consequently, if you are working in this field, you will be at the heart of these scientific advances.
What do I need to get into polymer chemistry?
As with many science-based careers, you will need a strong academic track record. Working in this field can be frustrating, as you are likely to need to overcome setbacks in your research. Therefore, you will be required to sustain your motivation and enthusiasm, so that you can bounce back from these challenges.
However, the pioneering nature of the work is very attractive and there is plenty of scope to make powerful and long lasting changes to the modern world and the millions of the everyday items that utilise synthetic polymers.
Can you see a connection between your interests and a career in polymer chemistry? Working in this sector means that you will literally be the glue holding together the fabric of everyday consumption, while also working towards reducing the negative effects of that consumption. That’s pretty impressive!