PSI’s Greatest Hits: Our 6 Most-Requested Polymer Tests

We like to think we raise polymer testing to an art form here at Polymer Solutions Incorporated, and what successful artist doesn’t have a list of greatest hits? You won’t hear about our top performances on satellite radio or YouTube, but that doesn’t mean our most popular tests aren’t buzz-worthy.

Here are some of the tests we’re most frequently asked to conduct, six to be exact. We’ve also included information about the analytical value they bring:

1. GPC/SEC — Gel Permeation Chromatography (also known as Size Exclusion Chromatography) allows us to measure the molecular weight distribution of a polymer sample. We have multiple ways of conducting GPC/SEC testing, depending on the size and type of sample and what we hope to learn from it. We’ve used this type of testing to discover how processing conditions affect a polymer’s molecular weight, and to analyze product and device failures, implantable medical devices and packaging materials.

2. Solvent Extractions/Chemical and Thermal Digestions — These are two types of wet chemistry work that we often do together. As the name implies, solvent extraction involves dissolving a given sample in a solvent — typically water, chloroform or tetrahydrofuran. The process allows us to determine what part of a sample is soluble and what part isn’t. When a substance isn’t dissolving in our solvent, we add in chemical and thermal digestion. We can dissolve virtually any sample with the right cocktail of chemicals, extreme heat and even microwaves.

3. Molecular Weight Analysis — It may sound like the latest weigh-in torture at your doctor’s office, but molecular weight analysis is a workhorse test in polymer science. It can help us understand how a polymer will behave during processing, in real-life applications, and where a material is in its life cycle.

4. Rheometry — With rheometry testing, we study how a substance (usually a liquid) moves and reacts to applied forces. The information we gain can help us understand how a polymer will behave throughout its life cycle, from processing to actual use in applications from construction materials to cosmetics.

5. FTIR — Fourier Infrared Transform Spectroscopy is a very precise and powerful type of a time-honored analytical tool — spectroscopy. Basic spectroscopy involves shining a beam of light onto a sample and measuring how much light the material absorbs, reflects or allows to pass through. This tells us a lot about the sample’s molecular structure and helps us identify what a sample is. FTIR measures in the infrared end of the spectrum using a Fourier transform instrument to measure all wavelengths simultaneously.

6. Tensile Testing — You know how sometimes you give a malfunctioning item (car or cellphone, computer or lawn mower) a good whack to get it going — and it works? Tensile testing is our version of that brute-force concept. Basically, we apply force to a sample to see how much it can take before it breaks. It’s more than just fun. Tensile testing is an important way to measure the potential loss of mechanical strength from extended use, accelerated aging or chemical exposure of a product.

There you have it — our greatest hits list. And while we may never give Taylor Swift, U2 or even Kanye a run for their money, PSI’s scientists are true artists in the field of polymer testing.