Grandma, Did You Know?

This week we stumbled upon a quote, “you never really know something until you can explain it to your grandmother.” This got us thinking, how many of us could really explain polystyrene in modest terms?  We often are too close to the industry terminology and concepts that it is time to take a step back; ensuring education is occurring for all those who visit our site. What is polystyrene? Where did it come from? What is it made from? Here comes a question and answer session to help gain expertise.


What is polystyrene?


By definition, polystyrene is a synthetic resin that is a polymer of styrene, used chiefly as lightweight rigid foams and films.


What is the history of polystyrene?


According to, polystyrene was discovered in 1839 by Eduard Simon, an apothecary from Berlin. From storax, the resin of the Turkish sweetgum tree Liquidambar orientalis, he distilled an oily substance, a monomer that he named styrol. Several days later, Simon found that the styrol had thickened, presumably from oxidation, into a jelly he dubbed styrol oxide (“Styroloxyd”). By 1845 Jamaican-born chemist John Buddle Blyth and German chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann showed that the same transformation of styrol took place in the absence of oxygen. They called their substance metastyrol. Analysis later showed that it was chemically identical to Styroloxyd. In 1866 Marcelin Berthelot correctly identified the formation of metastyrol/Styroloxyd from styrol as a polymerization process. About 80 years later it was realized that heating of styrol starts a chain reaction that produces macromolecules, following the thesis of German organic chemist Hermann Staudinger (1881–1965). This eventually led to the substance receiving its present name, polystyrene.


What is expanded polystyrene?


Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is a rigid, tough, closed-cell foam. It is usually white and made of pre-expanded polystyrene beads.


Where can EPS be found?


EPS is all around us! Next time you have fast food or take out, pay attention to the container. When you travel on roadways, think of how the foundation is secured. During the cold winter months and warm summer months, think of how your house maintains temperature (or gets warmer or cooler). When you go on a picnic or receive those frozen foods in the mail, think of how those foam boxes keep our products temperature requirements just right.


It’s a fascinating material when you stop to think about all its qualities have to offer. Perhaps this will be a conversation starter at your next extended family dinner. Please be sure to say, ‘hi’ to your grandmother from all of us here at Plymouth Foam, Inc.