What is Polystyrene and How was it Invented?

Polystyrene comes in a wide variety of uses.

Food packaging and handling

Our daily activities aren’t complete without seeing an item made of Polystyrene. When you go out for groceries, vegetables, fruits, and other food products are stored in polystyrene packaging material. Other perishable goods like meat, eggs, fish, and fresh salads can be prevented from fast spoilage using this material for packaging. Moreover, it is a cost-effective way to maintain the food condition, mainly when it is transported, as in the case of online food deliveries.

Packaging of Appliances and Electronic goods

Besides its uses in storing and packaging food, it is also widely used when packaging electronic goods and appliances before they are placed in a box. The Polystyrene provides better protection and insulation of the appliance or gadget from external factors, and cushions the fragile appliance from external shocks.

Construction Value

Due to its excellent insulation capacity, this long-chain hydrocarbon can be used for construction purposes such as insulating ceilings, walls, floors, etc., from external temperature variations and humidity. It is also widely used in soundproofing walls of buildings. Resins of this chemical compound are also needed in lighting and plumbing fixtures, panels, and siding used for construction purposes.

Use in the medical field.

This resin is truly versatile that the medical field has seen its value as well. Medical equipment such as test tubes, Petri dishes, trays for conducting tissue culture tests, etc. are made from some form of Polystyrene.

It is extensively used in some medical paraphernalia due to its clarity (which helps in visibility) and fitness to handle sterilization.

Several diagnostic test equipment is also made up of this polymer, including medical cups, medical keyboards, plastic boxes, vaginal dilator speculum.

Art and Crafts

Extruded Polystyrene or Styrofoam or EPS is another form of the polymer with closed cells. A lot of people use them for art and craft projects. The material can be easily cut into any desired shapes and forms and can be painted and ornamented. It is mostly used as styro cut out letters for the event’s decorations.

It is also used in making miniature architectural designs and is a very convenient substitute for corrugated cardboard.

Other crafts that can be made of styrofoam include Christmas tree decors, candle holders, and holder of small things inside your home or office, like paper clips, pens, etc.

What is Polystyrene, and what is it made of?

Polystyrene is a synthetic hydrocarbon polymer made from the monomer known as styrene. Polymerization of styrene produces a hard, stiff, brilliantly transparent synthetic resin or also known as Polystyrene.

The combination of ethylene and benzene in the presence of aluminum chloride yields ethylbenzene, where styrene can also be obtained. Styrene, a building-block chemical used in the manufacture of many products, also occurs naturally in foods such as strawberries, cinnamon, coffee, and beef.

Polystyrene can also be blended with other polymers or copolymerized, lending hardness and rigidity to a number of important plastic and rubber products.

How was Polystyrene discovered?

Eduard Simon, an apothecary from Berlin, discovered Polystyrene in 1839. Simon distilled storax, an oily resin from the oriental sweet gum tree (Liquidambar orientalis), and he named the product styrol. After a few days, he noticed that the styrol had thickened into a jelly. Presuming that there is an oxidation that took place, he named the compound as styrol oxide (Styroloxyd)

By 1845, two chemists, Jamaican-born John Buddle Blyth and German, August Wilhelm von Hofmann, showed that the same transformation of styrol occurred without oxygen. They named the product as “meta styrol”. They showed a chemical identical analysis with Simon’s Styroloxyd.

In 1866, Marcellin Berthelot introduced the polymerization process as responsible for the formation of meta styrol/Styroloxyd from styrol. After several decades, it was found out that heating of styrol starts a chain reaction that produces macromolecules, following the thesis of German organic chemist Hermann Staudinger (1881–1965). Eventually, the compound got its present name, Polystyrene.

In 1931, the company I. G. Farben began manufacturing Polystyrene in Ludwigshafen, hoping it would be a suitable replacement for die-cast zinc in many applications. They achieved their goal when they developed a reactor vessel that extruded Polystyrene through a heated tube and cutter, producing Polystyrene in pellet form.

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