In this video, Steve Spangler says the substance he is using (a polyethylene oxide): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-88M75_PCI

He mentions that one molecule would go to the moon and back twice! I have a hard time believing this, but I guess it must be true.. Is it true that polyethylene molecules can be that long?


Short answer? Possibly, but these ones aren't.

So, the other thing mentioned in the video is that the specific material he's using has a molecular weight of approximately four million. If we assume it's ordinary poly-ethylene oxide, we can get the rough number of $\ce{(CH2)2O}$ subunits by just dividing by the molecular weight of the subunit:

  • $(12 \times 2) + (1 \times 2) + 16 = 42$
  • $\frac{4000000}{42} \approx 95000$

So, if we assume that each $\ce{C-O-C}$ back-bone unit is stretched out like a di-methyl ether molecule, a quick check on a fairly standard Ghemical force field gives me a subunit length of approximately 3.7 Å.

  • $3.7 \times 10^{-10} \times 95000 = 0.00003515 \text{m}$

So, these molecules should be about 0.04 millimetres long. Not exactly astronomical distances, but impressively long for a single molecule.

In theory, I don't think there's anything stopping you making a molecule as long as they claim, but these ones certainly aren't. I think also that the longest (synthetic) polymers in common use are of similar molecular weights and thus similar lengths: ultra-high molecular weight polyethene seems to top out around 4.5 million for commercial applications, from a quick search.

Biological molecules frequently get longer than this, though, especially DNA: the average human chromosome apparently contains a single DNA molecule approximately 5 centimetres long.

The man explaining in the video may have erroneously given the figure for the total length of all the molecules in that beaker.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.