Cellulose

Cellulose, a polysaccharide composed of multiple molecules of monosaccharaides chemically bonded together, is a chapter built from the previous one of glucose.  Not only being 90% of cotton, cellulose also is a major component in the make-up of a cell wall; in fact, it provides a lot of structural support.  This structural support is what, like other plant fibers, makes it so prominent in cotton.  The cotton plant needs certain temperatures and moist, well-drained soil for it to successfully grow.  This is why during the Industrial Revolution it became so popular in places such as Britain.  In 1760, England was able to import 2.5 million pounds of raw cotton, and in later years processing up to 140 times more than that.  The impact of cotton was effective and largely beneficial.  The farming districts were rezoned, there were numerous trading centers throughout the region, and factories appeared everywhere.  The unfortunate truth to the Industrial Revolution, however, was the harsh working and living conditions that came along with it.  Abuse was high, along with child labor, and unsatisfactory safety and health conditions.  Its popularity would have no chance of decreasing, nevertheless, because of how cheaply it could be made and the large demand for it.

The term polymer can be broken down into two Greek words, poly- meaning “many” and –meros meaning units, together meaning “many units”.  There are different forms of polysaccharides; B-glucose used for structural polysaccharides and a-glucose used for storage polysaccharides.  The difference between the two is not very large, as is their function and role vary while their structure is basically the same.  They bond through the first and fourth carbon atoms in the ring, then their OH will condense.  They will be bonded by a single hydrogen atom, and then have water has its byproduct.  The structure of cellulose chains usually are made of 5 glucose atoms, and OH ends that are left unbonded and attracted to the water perspiration humans produce.  It is considered a unique structure, the long chains pack tightly together, forming the rigid, insoluble fiber that the plant walls use.

There are a lot of storage polysaccharides, however, there are more structural polysaccharides.  It is said that half of all organic carbon is related to cellulose.  Chemist soon became interested in the idea of using cellulose as a cheap and freely obtainable material.  In the 1830s, they found that cellulose could dissolve in concentrated nitric acid and that it was able to form a highly flammable and explosive white powder when it is mixed with water.  Friedrich Schonbein made an accidental discovery that cotton reacts with acid mixtures one day in his kitchen, and from this later discovered guncotton.  Guncotton is nitrocellulose, when the NO2 replaces the H of OH at a number of positions on the molecule.  He looked for a way that this could be put into a profit, yet another way cellulose would change our history.

I fully agree with Napoleon’s Buttons, cellulose has made a great impact on history.  Without the Industrial Revolution, the form of plant structure, and Schonbein’s discovery we would have a different world today.

-Belinda Young 4/7/14

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