Polymer chemists study large, complex molecules. They understand how the smaller building blocks (monomers) combine to form polymers, and they manipulate both their molecular structure and chemical or other processing to develop specific functional characteristics in an end product.
Chemists create polymers as ingredients for products with unique physical and chemical properties. These products are lightweight, hard, strong, and flexible and may have special thermal, electrical, and optical characteristics.
Many of these products are used in the furniture, communication, packaging, and transportation industries, in everything from tractors to detergents to fabrics to aircraft. The polymer can be the end product in itself, or it can be an ingredient that changes the properties of another mixture.
Industrial polymer chemistry focuses on the end-use application of products, with a smaller emphasis on applied research and preparation. Polymer chemists need to adopt a business outlook in their work and understand the commercial applications of the polymers they are developing and the needs of the market they are serving.
They often find themselves working with the sales and marketing divisions of their companies to develop products that meet specific customer’s needs.
At the intersection of polymer chemistry and green chemistry is the development of green (environmentally- friendly) packaging—photodegradable plastics, edible food wrappings, and other ways to use as little packaging as possible.
- Fundamental understanding of the structure, composition, and properties of substances, including polymers.
- Mathematics and computer science skills, especially the ability to understand and apply statistical techniques.
- Analytical instrumentation techniques to characterize properties and performance of materials.
- Critical thinking, problem solving, and analytical skills to determine which tests to conduct and to interpret the results of those tests.
- Communication skills, both written and oral, to communicate findings to both scientists and nonscientists.
Original content at acs.org