Synthetic resins vs. natural amber

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Summary:
Are there any synthetic resins that can last as long as natural amber?
I'm completely in the dark when it comes to resins. I hope someone can help me out here.

Amber is a natural resin that can last for hundreds of thousands - or millions - of years. Synthetic resins like acrylic and fiberglass impregnated resins break down within decades. What is the difference between these two is there any synthetic resin that could last as long as amber can last?

Thanks for your help.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Baluncore
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Synthetic resins like acrylic and fiberglass impregnated resins break down within decades
Amber is preserved underground in cool conditions where there is no sunlight or UV. Many synthetic resins would survive under similar conditions, but break down on the surface under UV light.

Low MW components such as turpentine evaporates from amber during the solidification process. The low MW monomers in the synthetic resins are designed to polymerise and so are not mobile under cool dark conditions.

Plastic particles entering sediments on the sea floor can be expected to have very long lifetimes. The presence of water tends to extend the life of plastics.
 
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Amber is preserved underground in cool conditions where there is no sunlight or UV. Many synthetic resins would survive under similar conditions, but break down on the surface under UV light.
Thanks for replying!

Theoretically, if some acrylic or resin artifact were kept in a museum for hundredshof years, if an anti-uv coating were applied would the object be expected to stay in its same form? Low MW components such as turpentine evaporates from amber during the solidification process.
Plastic particles entering sediments on the sea floor can be expected to have very long lifetimes. The presence of water tends to extend the life of plastics.

Is this why we’re hearing a lot of news coverage about plastic in the pacific ocean? How long is that expected to last?
 
  • #4
Baluncore
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Theoretically, if some acrylic or resin artifact were kept in a museum for hundredshof years, if an anti-uv coating were applied would the object be expected to stay in its same form?
The temperature needs to be low to preserve polymers, or the chains will break and the material will then fracture easily. The presence of any UV would damage the chemical bonds of the polymer, and so greatly reduce the time before it crumbles.

Is this why we’re hearing a lot of news coverage about plastic in the pacific ocean? How long is that expected to last?
In many places the plastic will last for forever. Some plastic will break down into microplastics and then get incorporated in sediment or eaten by organisms. The organisms will extract some chemicals from the plastic. Those chemicals can disrupt normal biological functions. Many organisms die as a result of eating too much indigestible material.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microplastics
 
  • #5
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Amber is a natural resin that can last for hundreds of thousands - or millions - of years.
That's not exactly true. Amber is fossilized resin. The process turns the original resin into some highly polymerised plastic- or glass-like substance.

Theoretically, if some acrylic or resin artifact were kept in a museum for hundredshof years, if an anti-uv coating were applied would the object be expected to stay in its same form?
There is also the matter of biodegradation. Resin has natural antibacterial properties: not many bacteria can survive it. Common plastics does not has this property, while there are some (natural) bacteria which can break up their polymers for energy.
This may be especially true if you encase something into the plastic. Resin (amber) prevents decomposing (well: by breaking up cells and killing bacteria - so it's just decomposition of a different kind, actually). Plastic alone is not good for this.

Is this why we’re hearing a lot of news coverage about plastic in the pacific ocean? How long is that expected to last?
The plastic in the oceans degrades surprisingly fast. The problem comes from some substances released during the decomposition and also: plastic can cause mechanical problems during digestion (attempt). And due the plastic is there in all sizes, all sizes of animal life is affected.
 
  • #6
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That's not exactly true. Amber is fossilized resin. The process turns the original resin into some highly polymerised plastic- or glass-like substance.

There is also the matter of biodegradation. Resin has natural antibacterial properties: not many bacteria can survive it. Common plastics does not has this property, while there are some (natural) bacteria which can break up their polymers for energy.
Where can I learn more about how amber fossilizes? Can synthetic resins fossilize?
This may be especially true if you encase something into the plastic. Resin (amber) prevents decomposing (well: by breaking up cells and killing bacteria - so it's just decomposition of a different kind, actually). Plastic alone is not good for this.
What if fiberglass is encased in the resin? (Sorry if that sounds like a dumb question)

Thanks for all the thoughtful replies everyone!
 
  • #7
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What if fiberglass is encased in the resin?
Sorry, I've been assuming you want to encase something biological.
That does not work well.
Fiberglass is for eternity (sort of).
 
  • #8
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Ah, I understand. I was wondering how long you could make some little resin nonbiological artifact last - a casting, a pen, whatever.
 
  • #9
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Hard to say. There is not enough experience.
Way back plexiglas was expected to last long, and then... It didn't.
As we know right now I would say synthetic resin + fiberglass would likely last for at least some centuries in 'ideal' environment. But where could you complain if it didn't?

May last long and will last long are two very different concepts.

If you want to shoot for the eternity then you better go for proven solutions and pick some rocks instead.
But even among those you have to pick (and place!) carefully.
 
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  • #10
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Hard to say. There is not enough experience.
Way back plexiglas was expected to last long, and then... It didn't.
As we know right now I would say synthetic resin + fiberglass would likely last for at least some centuries in 'ideal' environment. But where could you complain if it didn't?

May last long and will last long are two very different concepts.

If you want to shoot for the eternity then you better go for proven solutions and pick some rocks instead.
But even among those you have to pick (and place!) carefully.
Ha! I bet the Iron Pillar of Dehli makes it another 10,000 years! Eternity is a long time. :) I expect the Earth to swallow everything whole long before that happens. All joking aside, I'm just really curious about fossilized amber and how the process works, if we could replicate it in principle, etc. I've come across ideas like putting glass or fiberglass in resin makes the object last indefinitely but I can't figure out how that would work if the resin bonds break down betwen the glass particles. This is something I have no experience with whatsoever and I'm just trying to learn.
 
  • #11
anorlunda
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ideas like putting glass or fiberglass in resin makes the object last indefinitely
Huh? Glass will last longer than resin.

Are you interested only in preservation or do you also need transparency?

Encapsulating radioactive waste in glass isolates it for a very long time. But the glass is not transparent.
 
  • #12
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I was referring to resins impregnated with fiberglass or glass beads. I did not understand.
 
  • #13
anorlunda
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I was referring to resins impregnated with fiberglass or glass beads. I did not understand.
Oh, I thought you meant that the object was glass.

What about transparency? Do you need to see the object clearly without removing it? That's different than preserving something in a container, then removing it in the future to look at it.
 
  • #14
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Oh, I thought you meant that the object was glass.

What about transparency? Do you need to see the object clearly without removing it? That's different than preserving something in a container, then removing it in the future to look at it.
I meant some of these resins are cast with glass beads or fiberglass inside them.
 
  • #15
Baluncore
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I think you should avoid glass fibre.
It provides tensile strength in one dimension only, and a path for moisture to enter the volume of the glass and the resin.
 

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