Water- soluble polymers - whether derived from nature or entirely man-made - tend to get forgotten

Handbook of industrial water soluble polymers 

Peter A Williams (ed) 

Oxford: Blackwell Publishing | 2007 | 331pp | ?99.50 (HB) | ISBN 9781405132428 

Reviewed by Peter Budd

Mention the word ’polymer’ and we usually think of things like polythene bags, polystyrene cups and plastic pipes, none of which show an affinity for water. Water- soluble polymers - whether derived from nature or entirely man-made - tend to get forgotten, despite the numerous useful jobs they do. They appear in many of the foods we eat, in the products that clutter our bathrooms, and in the paints that cover our walls. They help to clean the water we drink and the waste we produce. 

Many of the applications of water-soluble polymers use their ability to control the way a fluid flows. We see them in action when we pour out a salad dressing. It’s a polymer, in this case a natural gum, that stops the components settling out in the bottle, whilst enabling it to flow after it has been shaken. Polymers perform a similar function in all sorts of products and processes.  

Other applications use the ability of polymers to stick to surfaces. When they fasten onto tiny particles, they can either keep the particles suspended in a liquid, or make them clump together so they are easily removed. When polymers adhere to other kinds of surface, they can completely change its behaviour, such as the way water drains off it or the extent to which bacteria can attach. 

These applications, and more, are explored in the Handbook of industrial water soluble polymers. This is a book intended for those involved with the subject, rather than for the general reader, but those with at least rudimentary background knowledge will find it a valuable addition to their bookshelf.