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Ebendorf Necklace
MFA #:2006.139


Plastic pitcher
MFA# 2010.578

A thermoplastic polyolefin made from styrene with a general composition of [-C6H5CHCH2-]n. Although probably known earlier, polystyrene was described in 1839 by E. Simon of Germany, after he watched the clear Styrene liquid distilled from storax resin cool then harden to form a solid mass. Polystyrene was first commercially made in 1929 by I.G. Farben (Germany) for use in styrene butadiene synthetic rubbers. Polystyrene is a hard, strong solid with good dimensional stability and impact resistance; it can be molded and fabricated. Polystyrene is often prepared as an expanded foam (Styrofoam®) using blowing agents for use in temperature and sound insulation. It can be co-polymerized with many other polymers for increased flexibility, i.e. ABS rubbers are made from Acrylonitrile, Butadiene, and styrene.

Examples include:

Polystyrene Forms Uses Products
Extruded Foam, Closed Cell Container, Padding, Packing Dow Chemical: Styrofoam

Gilman Bros.: Stylite, Cellulite

Polystyrene core laminated with paper or plastic on both sides Support, Backing 3A Composites: Fome-Cor

Bainbridge: Artcare Foam Core Boards & Artcare Restore
Laird Plastics: Gatorboard

Expanded polystyrene foam Loose-fill molded pieces patented Dow Chemical: Packing peanuts (packing noodles, foam popcorn)

Synonyms and Related Terms

PS; styrene polymer; polystyrène (Fr.); poliestireno (Esp.); polistirene (It.); poliestireno (Port.); styrene resin

Examples: Styrofoam® [Dow]; Luran; Styron; Lustrex; Fome-Cor®; Algil [Polymers, Inc.]; Permene [Modglin Co.]; Shalon [Polymers, Inc.]; Polyfil [Mack Molding]; Durastran; Plexene


  • Foam, peanuts
  • Transparent enclosures, containers
  • Inexpensive rigid plastics: disposable cutlery, cabinets, furniture
  • Foam boards, insulation


MFA- Polystyrene.jpg



Personal Risks

Aldrich Chemical: MSDS

Collection Risks

  • Degrades in UV radiation and light which causes yellowing and embrittlement.[1]
  • Photo-oxidation increases “Plasticizers exuding from PVC are very good solvents and can dissolve polystyrene boxes.” [2]
  • Polystyrene carries a static charge and attracts dust.
  • Poor shock absorber.

Environmental Risks

Physical and Chemical Properties

  • Chemically stable at room temperature [1]
  • Attacked by hydrocarbon solvents, oils, ketones, esters, inorganic acids.
  • Resistant to organic acids, alkalis, alcohols.
  • Shrinks in boiling water [2]
  • Burns with luminous smoky flame giving faint odor of marigolds.
  • CAS = 9003-53-6
  • Melting Point = softens about 150C
  • Density = 1.060
  • Refractive Index = 1.59


General Characteristics of Polymers

Physical Properties for Selected Thermoplastic Resins

Sources Checked for Data in Record

  1. 1.0 1.1 Shashoua, Yvonne. Conservation of Plastics: Materials Science, Degradation and Preservation. Amsterdam etc.: Elsevier, 2008. 248
  2. 2.0 2.1 Scott R. Williams. Plastic Storage Products. In ‘Preventive Conservation: Collection Storage’ Lisa Elkin and Christopher A. Norris (eds.), Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, New York. 2019. 774
  • Contributions: Gina Watkinson, AIC Plastics Panel, 2020.
  • The American Heritage Dictionary or Encarta, via Microsoft Bookshelf 98, Microsoft Corp., 1998
  • R. J. Gettens, G.L. Stout, Painting Materials, A Short Encyclopaedia, Dover Publications, New York, 1966 Comment: ref.index= 1.50-1.75
  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971 Comment: ref. index = 1.59
  • Dictionary of Building Preservation, Ward Bucher, ed., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York City, 1996
  • Theodore J. Reinhart, 'Glossary of Terms', Engineered Plastics, ASM International, 1988
  • Lynda A. Zycherman, J.Richard Schrock, A Guide to Museum Pest Control, FAIC and Association of Systematics Collections, Washington DC, 1988
  • R.D. Harley, Artists' Pigments c. 1600-1835, Butterworth Scientific, London, 1982
  • Pam Hatchfield, Pollutants in the Museum Environment, Archetype Press, London, 2002
  • Thomas C. Jester (ed.), Twentieth-Century Building Materials, McGraw-Hill Companies, Washington DC, 1995
  • M.Kaufman, The First Century of Plastics, The Plastics and Rubber Institute, London, 1963 Comment: first developed commercially in 1930
  • F. Kidd, Brushmaking Materials, Bristish Brush Manufacturers, London, 1957
  • Sharon Blank, An introduction to plastics and rubbers in collections, Studies in Conservation, 35, 53-63, 1990 Comment: used in synthetic rubbers since 1927... it was first used as polystyrene in the mid 1930s
  • History of Plastics www.nswpmith.com.au/historyofplastics.html Comments:In Europe, I.G.Farbenindustrie: experiments 1924, production 1929 In US, Dow Chemical: experiments before 1930, production 1937