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Synthetic Materials

Synthetic Materials

This lesson aligns with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) PS1.B

There are certain materials that do not come from natural resources. Instead, they are made by certain chemical processes. For example, plastic and all plastic products are prepared artificially. Some materials are made by mixing carbon fibers with plastic. Carbon fiber is a strong polymer and five times stronger than steel. Due to its distinct properties, carbon fiber has been used in many industries. This article will discuss synthetic materials, their properties, and types of synthetic materials. 

Synthetic Materials
The synthetic word means “man-made”. Synthetic materials are formed when different substances are mixed together deliberately to make new materials with desirable properties. Examples include plastics and fibers such as nylon. Plastics are very useful synthetic materials. They can be easily shaped when they are soft, e.g., plastic bags. Plastic may be in a hard shape, e.g., garden furniture. Biodiesel and ethanol are synthetic materials. Artificial foods and medicines are also made from synthetic materials. Synthetic materials play an important role in making clothes as well. 

Manufacturing of Synthetic Materials 
A chemical reaction proceeds among the reactants to create new products named synthetic materials. The reactants may be natural or other synthetic materials. During a chemical reaction, bonds between the reactants break, and molecules are rearranged to form new bonds among the products. For example, Polyethylene is the simplest synthetic polymer used to make plastic bags. It is composed of just one kind of monomer named ethylene. It consists of two carbon atoms and two hydrogen atoms. Polyethylene is produced when many thousands of ethylene molecules are joined end to end.

Other polymers, such as nylon and rayon, can be made by joining two or more different monomers. Some synthetic materials are created by mixing materials to form a new synthetic material, such as composites. Plywood and concrete are examples of such composites.

Properties of Synthetic Materials
When two or more reactants are combined, they form new products. The molecules of the reactants are arranged differently than the products. The chemical and physical properties of the products are different than the reactants. Therefore, the properties of synthetic materials depend on the materials by which they are made.  

For example, polypropylene is a thermoplastic that is used in the textile industry. It is made from many thousands of propene monomers. The properties of polypropylene and propene are different because their molecules are arranged differently. Similarly, the materials are mixed together to form composites that have different properties than composites. Some properties of synthetic materials are mentioned below: 

  • Some materials are strong and hard.
  • Some synthetic materials are soft and flexible.
  • Some materials have low reactivity.

Types of Synthetic Materials 
Synthetic materials are made from natural resources by chemical processes. There are various types of synthetic materials. A few are discussed below:

Plastics are the most common example of synthetic material. Many plastics are made from hydrocarbons containing oil or petroleum, which are natural resources. They may be soft or hard. Polyethylene and polypropylene are examples of plastics. 

Polymers are made in two ways that are additional polymerization and condensation polymerization. In additional polymerization, monomers are added together in a repeating pattern. These monomers are reacted to form polymers. In condensation polymerization, small molecules or monomers react with each other and create large structural polymers. The by-products, such as water, are released in this polymerization. Polyester is a common example of a condensed polymer. 

  • Synthetic materials are man-made materials that are formed by chemically mixing the starting materials to obtain desirable characteristics, e.g., plastics, new fuels, etc. 
  • In the formation of synthetic materials, one or more different monomers are joined together to form a new product.
  • Synthetic materials always have different properties than the materials by which they are made.
  • Composites are also made by the combination of two materials with different chemical and physical properties, such as fiberglass and ceramics. 
  • Synthetic materials may be soft or hard. They also have low reactivity.
  • Plastics are one type of synthetic material. 

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