Chemistry KS3 & GCSE: The plastic revolution

Where do all the plastic goods that surround us come from?

Mark Miodownik explores the history and molecular structure of these ubiquitous materials, formed by long strings of molecules joined together to make polymers.

He explains how hydrocarbon waste products from oil refineries were first used to make nylon, PVC, polystyrene and polyester.

This clip is from Materials: How They Work.

Teacher Notes

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.

Curriculum Notes

These clips will be relevant for teaching Chemistry at KS3 and GCSE/KS4 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and National 4/5 or Higher in Scotland. The topics discussed will support OCR, Edexcel, AQA, WJEC GCSE in GCSE in England and Wales, CCEA GCSE in Northern Ireland and SQA National 4/5 and Higher in Scotland.

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The atomic structure of metal
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The Invention of Carbon Fibre
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Goodyear's groundbreaking invention of vulcanised rubber
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The structure, properties and uses of Bakelite
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What is reinforced concrete?
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