PerspectiveMaterials Science

A Ball-and-Chain Polymer Model

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Science  16 Oct 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5951, pp. 374-375
DOI: 10.1126/science.1180973

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Polymers are long, flexible molecular chains that are ubiquitous in nature and can be found in plastics, rubber, complex fluids, and biological matter (1, 2). A wide diversity of materials owe their properties to the variety of configurations and phases that polymers can adopt, but due to the molecular size scale of the polymers it is difficult to probe these configurations directly. On page 408 of this issue, Zou et al. (3) describe a macroscopic, millimeter-scale version of a polymer system that not only captures some of the essential aspects of real polymers but also allows the configurations of the system to be observed directly on the individual polymer level, something that cannot be done for real polymers. The ability to capture the behavior of real polymers with a tunable and tractable model system opens an entirely new field of research for polymer science as well as for granular media.