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Name: Enrico
Status: student
Grade: 12+
Country: USA
Date: Spring 2009


Question:
What is the largest non-polymeric synthesized organic molecule known?


Replies:
As you might know, polymers can be made arbitrarily long. However, there are non-polymer compounds than can be arbitrarily 'large' as well. Carbon compounds like graphite or carbon nanotubes can be very large - some carbon nanotubes have been made a centimeter long. Crystals can be extraordinarily massive (hundreds of kilograms), as with single-crystal silicon ingots, although typically single-crystals are not considered as single molecules.

Large is a somewhat vague term; do you mean molecular weight or length/size? Globular molecules might have very 'high molecular weight, but not be spatially large, while fibers can be very long, but compared to spherical molecules might have lower molecular weights. Depending on which you mean, the answer is different.

Hope this helps,
Burr Zimmerman


Hi Enrico,

The largest naturally occurring molecules are large protein molecules, often consisting of tens or even hundreds of thousands of atoms. As for what is the largest non-polymeric synthesized molecule, much depends on exactly what polymeric means. Carbon nanotube molecules, for example, contain a very large number of carbon atoms in a repetitive structure. Does this imply they are polymers of carbon? I cannot directly answer your question.

Regards,
Bob Wilson


Ouch! It becomes very difficult to separate "polymers" and "non-polymers". For example, is a protein a "molecule" or a "polymer"? Is a gene a "polymer" or a just a large complex "molecule"? I suggest not trying to classifying a particular molecule "the largest", and address the properties of a particular molecule. Chemistry is a study of properties not (usually) a race for "what is the largest".

Vince Calder



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