Back to school with plenty of chemistry

Going back to school means getting all our school materials ready: markers, notebooks, rulers, glue, plasticine, water colors, wax crayons, and a long list of supplies where plastic, and therefore chemistry, plays a key role. Plastic can even be found in the fibers that backpacks and rolling backpacks are made of.

All of these, and numerous other objects we use every day, are made with one common element: oil. Monomers, small molecules that are extracted from oil, join together to form polymers. This process is known as polymerization. This is how polypropylene or polyethylene, which yield many types of plastics that are widely used at school, are produced.

In addition to the pens, compasses, and rulers that the more than eight million kids going back to school in Spain will use this year, we will see other polymer products in the 2017–18 school year.

The schoolyard, the place many students like the most, is often covered with rubber, a perfect material for game areas as it helps buffer falls. We are also surrounded by chemistry in our Physical Education class: sneakers made with rubber or EVA, T-shirts woven using polypropylene fabric, polyurethane balls (made of polyols), or the gymnastic hoops or cones used in exercise circuits, which can be made using polyethylene. Basketball nets and goals are also made using this material.

If we visit the computer science classroom, we see that chemistry is again present in countless objects. Tablets are one of the devices made more flexible and resistant thanks to the use of intelligent plastics. Plastic is used to make computer mice and rubber is used in non-slip mousepads, not to mention the Internet, which has grown exponentially in recent years partly due to fiber optic cables and the plastics that protect them to facilitate data transfer.

The occasional outing is common during the school year, and chemistry again pops up everywhere during these. Cases in point are lunch boxes and bottles, many of which are made using polypropylene, a material particularly well-suited for food storage. Let us not forget that chemistry is also to be found in the buses used for these outings: in the seat belts, the foam inside seats, the dashboard, the steering wheel, fenders, headlights…in short, in numerous interior and exterior car parts that afford comfort and make vehicles resistant to impacts, ensuring our safety.

Find out more about the research into polymers and their applications conducted by Repsol Chemicals here.

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