The Chemistry of Pole Vault Poles


I chose to find out the chemistry of the pole vault pole because I am a pole vaulter and wanted to know what made them bend so much and not shatter. A pole vault pole is basically just a hollow piece of fiberglass that is used for pole vaulters to get anywhere from 8 feet to 18 feet in the air. These poles come in many different heights and can hold varying weights these are important because you need to have one than is the right height for you but also can hold your weight but not be so stiff you can not bend it.

  • Composition of ...
    • Fiberglass
      • Non-alkaline-earth borosilicate glass
        • Aluminium Oxide Al₂O₃
        • Silicon dioxide SiO2
        • Boron trioxide B2O3
        • Sodium oxide Na2O
    • Resin
      • Polyester resin
        • Acrylic modified unsaturated polyester resin
        • Is durable and flexible
        • 65 parts 0.15:1.0:0.3:0.7 molar ratio of dicyclopentadiene : fumaric acid : ethylene glycol : diethylene glycol copolymer
        • 35 parts of 2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

Fiberglass is a composite meaning it is made up of two or more compounds. The composites together make up glass fibers which in large quantities makeup fiberglass. This material is used in the making of pole vault poles because it is a very lightweight, durable, and flexible material. Fiberglass is being used for more and more products as other companies find out how truly durable it is, now it is commonly being used in the structures of boats, cars, and foundations of buildings. Fiberglass is used in three separate pieces to create the pole vault pole the first piece is a narrow piece that spirals up and down to give the pole flexibility, the second piece is used to give it strength, and the third piece is used to tell which way the pole will bend. These pieces are each different sizes and in the process are layered on top of each other.

Resin is a clear liquid. Resin is used for many reasons but mostly to give objects a hard clear durable finish. There are catalysts within the resin which when activated turn the liquid into a solid to create the glossy, smooth finish. According to the type of resin the resin will cure according to different conditions. When the catalysts are activated and the liquid turns into a solid, whether the resin is already in the object, in that case the resin will then move to the outermost layer of the object or if the resin is being poured onto the object. There are many different types of resin and each needs a different condition to become activated.

Chemistry's Role

Fiberglass is made up of four main compounds, aluminium oxide, silicon dioxide, boron trioxide and sodium oxide. Aluminium oxide is naturally occurring, it is a chemical compound made when aluminium and oxygen bond together. This is used in pole vault poles because of its lightweight and strong characteristics. Bauxite contains large amounts of aluminium hydroxide which is where aluminium oxide comes from. Silicon Dioxide is naturally occurring, it is a chemical compound made when silicon and oxygen bond together. Silicon dioxide is used most often as an additive in plastic because of its strength. Silicon dioxide can be found in many places like in sand and quartz. Boron Trioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound, made when boron and oxygen bond together. Boron trioxide is used to make pole vault poles in the form of sodium borate pentahydrate because it is lightweight and strong as well as a very common use as an insulator for fiberglass. This can be found in the ocean, coal and in some soils. Sodium Oxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound made when sodium and oxygen bond together. Sodium oxide is used to make fiberglass because one of its characteristics is lowering the temperature it takes to melt which will help later in the process when the fiberglass and resin combine. Sodium oxide is not used in the raw form when creating glass.

Resin is a liquid product that is clear and also is used to create a durable and glossy finish. When the resin is introduced to certain conditions the catalysts in it will activate to turn the liquid into a hard finish, the resin will the cure which will make a smooth surface for the fiberglass pole. In the creation of the pole vault pole the resin that is being used with the fiberglass is called acrylic modified unsaturated polyester resin. The polyester resin is made up of 100 parts (65 parts dicyclopentadiene, fumaric acid, ethylene glycol, diethylene glycol copolymer and 35 parts 2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate

this resin is used because of its durability and flexibility.The resin is put into the fiberglass to later be cured. The fiberglass does not produce a smooth finish so the resin is put into the fiberglass when it is being made, so in the final steps of pole making the fiberglass and resin are introduced to certain temperatures caused by steam to activate the catalysts to make this resin rise to the top and create a smooth finish.

The pole vault pole is made by machines for the most part, the cutting of the pieces of fiberglass, infusing resin into the fiberglass and heating up the fiberglass to a certain temperature so the resin can cure. There are also parts of the pole vault pole making that has to be done manually, when adding the second and third piece of fiberglass to create the pole a person has to iron on part of the fiberglass to the first layer and then the third piece to the second layer of fiberglass. Chemistry plays many roles in the making of this item, the machines used to make it, the bonds between the elements needed to make up chemical compounds to create fiberglass, the catalysts and how they become activated at certain temperatures and the placement, shape, and order of the pieces of fiberglass added onto each other to create how flexible the pole will be and which way it will bend.

Background Research

Pole vault has been in some way or shape around since man can remember. The original use of pole vault was transportation, like vaulting over a creek or river. In this time the “poles” were made of bamboo because bamboo was more durable than a stick or tree branch because they would just snap when too much weight was applied. Then pole vault became a college sport and began to get more and more popular and advancements to the sport became more frequent. In order to have the sport in the first place and make it exciting and fun so it will continue on you need to have something that can launch you higher and higher into the air without breaking it. The modern pole vault pole is made up of fiberglass and resin. There are so many different types and brands today but they are all made the same way. Poles range from height, to weight to the maximum weight limit so there is a pole for every shape and size person. Fiberglass is a very strong flexible and sturdy material which makes a perfect pole vault pole.


    • How the pole vaulting poles are made
    • Pole vault poles are made up of fiberglass resin
    • First they have a machine that cuts the material into a certain width, that creates the specified width into a roll of that material
    • Then the roll is wrapped around a hollow steel pole once for flexibility, then back up again in the opposite direction to increase duration makeing the criss cross pattern
    • Then they use specific cut outs of fiberglass to fit the certain pole and add on of 2 pieces
    • The first piece is ironed on to stick to the already criss crossed fiberglass and then put in between hot rollers to wrap that piece evenly
    • Now the second piece is added the same way but this piece is critical because the way this piece is cut controls they way it bends
    • Then to pole is put into an oven heated by steam to liquefy the resin so it re saturates to the fiberglass
    • ext

    • Pros and cons of fiberglass
    • Fiber glass can be easily folded into any shape, has mechanical strength that is so strong and stiff for its weight that it perform way better than most other materials.

    • The four components of fiber glass
    • What each component of fiber glass does for the final material
    • Fiberglass reinforcements and what its job is (strength)
    • Resin and its job ( known as the glue and protector of the fiberglass reinforcements)
    • Additives and Fillers are different for every structure and its purpose (waterproofing, water resistant, dimensional stability, and temperature resistance
    • Surface finishes and their contributions (UV protection and corrosion resistance)

    • Fiberglass resin a semi solid material made with a combination of fiberglass strands and resin
    • Fiberglass is comprised of very fine glass fibers and is widely used as a reinforcing agent
    • Resin is a semi-solid substance which contains properties for it to be used as a base for other materials such as fiberglass
    • Fiberglass resin is also known as fiber-reinforced polymer or glass-reinforced plastic.
    • Polymers are made up of monomers, molecules that consist of a long, repeating chain of smaller units
    • Monomers are molecules that are made up of around 4-10 atoms,and are reactive because they bond to other monomers causing polymerization

    • The three different kinds of resin and their uses
    • Epoxy resins are the most expensive but stronger than any other by 300%
    • Vinyl Ester resins are primarily used with fiberglass
    • Polyester the weakest of the resins and is also primarily used with fiberglass, this type of resin also does not bond well

    • Explains the manufacturing process, melting, forming into fibers and continuous filament of fiberglass
    • Also explains about polymers and composites and goes into detail

    • alumino-borosilicate glass
    • approximately 80% silica, 13% boric oxide, 4% sodium oxide and 2–3% aluminium oxide
    • Non-alkaline-earth borosilicate glass (borosilicate glass 3.3)
    • Aluminium Oxide Al₂O₃.
    • Sodium oxide Na2O
    • Boron trioxide B2O3
    • Silicon dioxide SiO2

    • Marine and Fiberglass resin
    • Waxed resin
    • Used in last steps to cure to a hard non tacky surface
    • Resin rises when catalyzed with heat to the top layer sealing off air to cure

    • Unsaturated polyester resin can be cured from a solid or liquid state due to certain conditions (thermoset)
    • Isophthalic polyester resin is prefered because of its water resistance

About the Author

Madison Gilsdorf is a 17 year old junior in high school in Billings Montana at Billings Senior High School. Madison is involved in school sports such as cheerleading and track and field. She also is in some school clubs such as student advocates, which is a club that volunteers for the school, STEM society which stands for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics and Key club which does volunteer work around the school and around in the environment. Her favorite color is grey and favorite subject is math, she wishes to become an elementary school teacher after she graduates high school and finishes college.