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Mark Miodownik explores the history of plastics. He explains how the hydrocarbon waste products from oil refineries were first used to make nylon, PVC, polystyrene and polyester. He describes hydrocarbons as polymers and uses a paperclip chain as an analogy.
This clip is from:
First broadcast:
11 May 2012

Classroom Ideas

Students could discuss and investigate everyday uses of plastics, compiling a list of all the uses of plastics in their lives.
Ask students to bring a range of clean, washed samples of different plastics to class. These can be divided by name and recycling symbol number into different groups. For any that are not labelled, students will have to examine their properties to best decide which group they are part of.
Following the clip, students could create their own polymer slime by combining a solution of polyvinyl alcohol with a borax solution. Explain this in terms of chains and the crosslinks created between them.