Repeat unit

An essential concept which defines polymer structure, the repeat unit is the simplest structural unit of a polymer chain. So a polymer consists of repeat units linked together, like the beads of a necklace. One of the simplest repeat units is that of polyethylene:


while polypropylene has the repeat unit


The subscript "n" denotes the degree of polymerisation, that is, the number of units linked together. The molecular mass of the repeat unit, MR, is simply the sum of the atomic masses of the atoms within the repeat unit. The molecular mass of the chain is just the product nMR. Other than monodisperse polymers, there is normally a molar mass distribution caused by chains of different length.

Vinyl Polymers

More complex repeat units occur in vinyl polymers, where one of the hydrogen atoms is substituted by another different atom, or by a larger fragment. So PVC for example possesses a chain in which the hydrogen atom is substituted by a chlorine atom:


Polystyrene has a chain where the substituent is a phenyl group (C6H5), corresponding to a benzene ring minus one hydrogen:


See also


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