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Image of dendrimers which are tree-like polymers with a cavity in the middle. 
Image Credit: Wolfson Materials and Catalysis Center, University of East Anglia

Dendrimers are a special class of polymers. A polymer is a huge molecule made up of tens of thousands of repeating units called monomers. The prefix mono stands for single and poly stands for multiple. A monomer is a simple organic molecule which reacts with other monomers to form a large polymer. Polymers are ubiquitous in our lives, they represent a large class of natural and synthetic materials including textiles, rubber, tires, fishing net, stockings, sporting goods, and plastics.  

Whereas typical polymers run like linear chains, dendrimers are tree-like polymers.  They branch out from a central core, exhibiting a dense surface surrounding a relatively hollow core. They are a series of chemical shells built on a small core molecule. The size is typically not more than 15 nanometers but the molecular weight is large.  

Since the central core of a dendrimer is hollow, think of it as a cavity or a pouch which can be used to trap or store "guest molecules." The interior and the core of dendrimers can thus be tailored for different applications. One area that has attracted interest is biomedical applications. In these applications the guest molecules are drugs, candidates for gene therapy or cancer therapy, or antimicrobial and antiviral agents.  Another are of interest is the synthesis of organic light emitting polymers.