Part of the Oxford Instruments Group



Polymers and Polymer Composites

Ask a question

Measuring Polymers and Polymer Composites

Measurement techniques are required in all aspects of the polymer industry, from research and development through to quality assurance (QA) during processing, and finally quality control (QC) of the finished product. Benchtop NMR and atomic force microscopy provide a plethora of measurement methods which may be used at each stage, to measure either physical properties or composition (chemical analysis).


Manufacturers require faster and more reproducible testing methods to assure the quality of their products and improve the economics of polymer manufacturing. This has resulted in the replacement of many old-fashioned methods, particularly those involving wet chemistry, high temperatures, difficult, slow protocols, and methods which use hazardous or environmentally undesirable materials, such as many solvents. Our MQC+ benchtop NMR analyser provides a rapid and solvent-free alternative which is well established in QA/QC laboratories world-wide.



R&D scientists require a flexible instrument which allows them to study materials at every stage of production from the raw materials to the final product. MQR is a high-performance Time Domain-NMR (TD-NMR) system used to measure molecular mobility and diffusion, to examine the microstructure of samples. Samples can be measured across a range of temperatures, which is essential for polymer research.

Ask a question

Polystyrene is one of the most commonly manufactured polymers today. Pure polystyrene is highly crystalline and rigid, making it brittle. One method of increasing the flexibility and reducing the brittle nature of the material is to blend the polymer with mineral oil. Precise control of the amount of mineral oil used is necessary to ensure the correct performance properties are obtained reproducibly. MQC+ provides a fast, simple and accurate method of measuring the content of mineral oil in crystalline polystyrene.

Read me: Measuring oil in crystal polystyrene

Polystyrene is one of the most commonly used polymers in the world today. Pure polystyrene is rigid and brittle but its properties may be modified. One means of modification is by introducing polybutadiene into the polymerisation process. The resulting polymer has the rigidity of polystyrene but with greatly improved impact performance derived from the elastomeric phase. MQC+ provides a fast, simple and accurate method of measuring polybutadiene content in impact-modified polystyrene.


Read me: Measuring polybutadiene in polystyrene

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is one of the most common polymers manufactured. It is very important that the plasticiser content of PVC is within specification limits, ensuring that the product has the correct hardness and flexibility for its end use. Since the content of plasticiser in PVC is the primary determinant of flexibility, it is essential to monitor plasticiser levels in order to obtain reproducible mechanical behaviour. MQC+ provides a quick and easy method of measuring plasticiser in PVC.

Read me: Measuring plasticiser in PVC

Xylene solubles in polypropylene is one of standard and important quality control measurements in polymer production processes. Polypropylene is a semi-crystalline polymer where the ratio of the crystalline to amorphous content is one of the major determinants of the properties of the polymer. Xylene solubles are widely used to monitor product reproducibility during synthesis and processing. Fast, simple, accurate measurement of xylene solubles in polypropylene can be carried out using MQC+.

Read me: Measuring xylene solubles in polypropylene

Chemical Analysis

Spectroscopy enables chemical characterisation of materials as well as quantitative analysis. The spectrum, or chemical ‘fingerprint’, can also be used to distinguish between polymers of similar composition and identify the composition of mixtures of known chemicals. X-Pulse, our high-resolution, broadband benchtop NMR spectrometer provides polymer chemists with the means to define these measurements using chemometric and other tools.

Ask a question

Polymeric materials are critical components in almost every industry and application from healthcare (including drug delivery, implant materials and anti-bacterial coatings) to energy systems (such as organic photovoltaics, fuel cells and batteries). The Beckingham polymer lab (Auburn University) carries out fundamental and applied research aimed at exploring the relationships between polymerization chemistry, polymer architecture, and the resulting material properties. The Pulsar benchtop NMR spectrometer is a vital tool for their work.

Read me: Auburn University polymer case study

Poloxamers are block-copolymers consisting of polyoxyethylene-(POE-) and polyoxypropylene-(POP) units. These materials are characterised by the chain length of the components. They in turn affect parameters such as molecular weight, appearance, hydrophilicity/hydrophobicity and solubility. Due to their surfactant properties these polymers are widely used in industrial applications, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. NMR may be used for the simple and rapid determination of the percentage of POE in poloxamers.

Read me: Measuring POE content of poloxamers

Surface and Mechanical Properties

Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) is a powerful tool for polymer science research. It can visualize molecular structure at the nanoscale but can also characterize polymer blends and composites at length scales up to 100μm. Its ability to map storage and loss moduli allows it to distinguish and even identify different components. Phase transitions and other thermal properties can also be probed using integrated environmental and temperature control.

Ask a question

This application note describes the many ways that AFM can contribute to polymer science and engineering. Examples include those from basic polymer science research as well as applied engineering examples on industrial polymer blends. Topics include characterization of morphology and structure, measuring force and deformation, mapping nanomechanical properties, measuring thermal properties, probing electrical and functional behaviour, and more.

Read me: AFM for polymer science and engineering

Knowledge of nanoscale mechanical properties can be critical to understanding a polymer behaviour and performance. This application note introduces several different techniques by which AFM can map nanomechanical properties includes storage and loss moduli. Examples are presented for each technique, which include polymer blends, tire rubber blends, and multilayer food packaging film.

Read me: AFM tools for nanomechanical properties