Formed from hydrocarbons, hydrocarbon derivatives, or sometimes from silicon, polymers are the basis not only for numerous natural materials, but also for most of the synthetic plastics that one encounters every day. Polymers consist of extremely large, chain-like molecules that are, in turn, made up of numerous smaller, repeating units called monomers. Chains of polymers can be compared to paper clips linked together in long strands, and sometimes cross-linked to form even more durable chains. Polymers can be composed of more than one type of monomer, and they can be altered in other ways. Likewise they are created by two different chemical processes, and thus are divided into addition and condensation polymers. Among the natural polymers are wool, hair, silk, rubber, and sand, while the many synthetic polymers include nylon, synthetic rubber, Teflon, Formica, Dacron, and so forth. It is very difficult to spend a day without encountering a natural polymer—even if hair is removed from the list—but in the twenty-first century, it is probably even harder to avoid synthetic polymers, which have collectively revolutionized human existence.

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