MadSci Network: Chemistry

Re: is glass( ordinary soda lime glass) considered a polymer ?

Date: Tue Dec 14 11:54:38 2010
Posted By: Werner Sieber, Research Scientist,
Area of science: Chemistry
ID: 1292031035.Ch

Hi Walter,

This is a very interesting question. The short answer is "no", soda-lime glass is not usually listed under "polymers", even though one could think of reasons to consider it part of that big family (I have been interested in glass and in polymers during my working life).

The molecules of polymers, as they are usually defined, can be thought of as chains or networks of identical (or a limited number of different) basic building units, the monomers. In the case of network polymers, as e.g. polyurethanes, the real structure often deviates from this idealized picture. The resulting materials are more irregular. In that, they come to resemble glass. The structure of soda-lime glass cannot be described by a finite number of monomers, despite the fact that it owes its properties to an infinite network of Si-O-Si chains. Some of the silicon atoms are linked (via oxygen) to one, others to two, three or four other silicon atoms, quite randomly over the long range, interspersed with sodium and calcium ions.

I am sure you may encounter a scientist who refers to soda-lime glass as an "inorganic polymer", but this is hardly more than a metaphorical use of the term. In general, industrial parlance, "polymer" refers to materials at least partially consisting of carbon-carbon bonds or carbon- oxygen-carbon bonds. The exception are the silicones which consist of carbon-substituted Si-O-Si chains, sometimes crosslinked.

Best regards,
Werner Sieber

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