DoITPoMS

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Naming polymers

Polymer nomenclature can be a confusing area, because several different names exist for almost every polymer. These include the chemical names (which describe the chemical structure of the molecule itself), any brand names used for marketing the material, and acronyms or abbreviations for either of these. For example, the molecule poly(tetrafluoroethene) is sold under the brand name Teflon and abbreviated to PTFE.

Another source of confusion is that there are several competing sets of rules for defining chemical names, not one single accepted system. Most of these involve writing poly followed by the monomer name in parentheses. For example, the polymer formed from the monomer tetrafluoroethene is simply poly(tetrafluoroethene).

If the structure of the monomer is different to that of the polymer it is more common to use the chemical name of the repeat unit instead of the monomer. When the repeat units become very complex, yet more systems of names are used, for example for epoxies and polyamides (nylons). For clarity we won’t deal with these here.

International differences and colloquial names add one final level of complexity – for example, C2H4 is ethene in Europe but ethylene in North America.

It is worth being familiar with the different names for some of the more common polymers, some of which you saw in the Introduction.


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