What are Polymers?

The word polymer is derived from the Latin words poly, meaning many, and mer meaning parts. Polymers are long chained molecules formed by joining together many small reactive molecules called monomers (mono and mer, meaning one part).

Polymers are macromolecules due to their very large sizes and high molecular masses. Polymers are made up of thousands of monomers.

Polymers may be natural or synthetic. Wood, cotton, wool, rubber, proteins are all examples of naturally occurring polymers. Synthetic polymers are the basis of the massive organic chemicals industry across the world today. The industry has grown rapidly since the Second World War and synthetic polymers are increasing replacing traditional natural materials. They are usually cheaper than their natural counterparts and are often better suited for particular functions.


The table below gives some examples of natural and synthetic polymers.


Name Monomer Where they occur in nature
Starch Glucose Potatoes, wheat, corn
Cellulose Glucose Wood, fibres
Protein Amino acids Silk, wool, hair, muscles
Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) Nucleotides Chromosomes, genes



Name Monomer Where they occur in nature
Ethene Carrier bags, plastic toys, kitchenware etc.
Chloroethene Guttering and pipes, electrical insulation, fabric covering
Phenylethene Insulation and packaging