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Flexible material that can recover its shape after considerable deformation.The best-known rubber is natural rubber, made from the milky latex of the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis). Natural rubber is still important industrially, but it now competes with synthetic alternatives (e.g., neoprene, silicone) derived from petroleum, natural gas, and other source materials. Rubber's usefulness is based on the unique elasticity of its constituent polymer molecules (built of thousands of isoprene monomers; seeisoprenoid), which are capable of returning to their original coiled shape after being stretched to great extents; it is made more durable by vulcanization with sulfur or another agent that establishes chemical cross-links between the polymers. Fillers and other additives allow tailoring of properties to the desired use (e.g., by foaming, shaping, and curing). More than half of all rubber goes into making tires; the rest is used principally in belts, hoses, gaskets, shoes, clothing, furniture, and toys.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on rubber, visit Britannica.com.