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Can anyone tell me the thickness of a molecule of cellulose? Some of our students are trying to figure out how many molecules thick a piece of paper would be!

You can get a crude estimate by knowing that cellulose is a polymer of glucose, which is a puckered six-sided ring of five carbons and one oxygen, plus some short side groups. The smallest dimension of the ring can be estimated by drawing the ring from the side. You'd see a zigzag, like a sloppy letter Z on its side, made up of three joined line segments going up, down, and then up. These are the carbon-carbon bonds in the ring seen from the side (you can only see three of them because the other three are behind the front three). The angle between the bonds is about 110 degrees. The length of the bonds is about 1.5 angstroms, or 0.15 nanometers. From this and the drawing you can estimate how far it is across the ring. Add on the diameter of a carbon bonded to two hydrogens (CH_2 group), about 4 angstroms or 0.4 nanometers.

Christopher Grayce

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