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an abnormal enlargement of a bodily structure or part, esp as the result of injury
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an increase in volume of solid bodies caused by their absorption of liquids or vapors from the environment. The capacity to swell is a characteristic property of bodies consisting of macromolecular compounds (polymers). Swelling is caused by diffusion processes, which are usually accompanied by solvation (the binding of a low-molecular-weight substance by a polymer).

A distinction is made between limited and unlimited swelling. In the first case the macromolecules are bonded fairly strongly, and swelling stops after having reached a certain limit. The swelled body retains its shape and a distinct boundary with the liquid phase. In the second case, mutual diffusion of the solvent and the polymer gradually leads to the disappearance of the interphase boundary between the swelling body and the liquid. Such swelling culminates in complete dissolution of the polymer. For example, limited swelling is exhibited by gel-like ion-exchange resins in water and by vulcanized rubber in benzene; unlimited swelling is exhibited by all polymers that are soluble in a particular solvent. In some cases, such as the gelatin-water system, limited swelling gives way to unlimited swelling with increasing temperature. Swelling is also a property of some minerals with a lamellar crystal lattice—for example, the montmorillonites. Upon swelling in water, such materials may undergo spontaneous dispersion, leading to the formation of highly disperse colloidal systems.

Swelling has wide use in industry and in everyday life. It frequently accompanies bonding of polymer materials, processing of polymers to produce various articles, production of rubber adhesives, and other processes, such as preparation of many foods and many natural processes (germination of seeds and spores).


Tager, A. A. Fizikokhimiia polimerov. 2nd ed. Moscow, 1968. Page 314.
Voiutskii, S. S. Kurs kolloidnoi khimii. Moscow, 1964. Page 482.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The volume increase caused by wetting, absorption of moisture, or chemical changes.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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