When solid caoutchouc is strongly heated it breaks down, without change in its ultimate composition, into a number of simpler liquid hydrocarbons of the terpene class (dipentene, di-isoprene, isoprene, &c.), of which one, isoprene (C5H8), is of simpler structure than oil of turpentine (C 10 H 16), from which it can also be obtained by the action of an intense heat.
When this volatile liquid hydrocarbon (isoprene) is allowed ro stand for some time in a closed bottle, it gradually passes into a substance having the principal properties of natural caoutchouc. The same change of isoprene into caoutchouc may also be effected by the action of certain chemical agents.
At present the change of isoprene into caoutchouc is mainly of scientific interest in indicating possibilities with regard to the conversion of the liquid globules of the latex into rubber and to the formation of rubber by plants.
The exact manner in which isoprene passes into caoutchouc is also not understood.
Hemiterpenes The best known is Isoprene, C 5 H 8, which is obtained on distilling caoutchouc or gutta-percha.
These problems are, however, certain to be solved in the near future, and then probably caoutchouc may be formed in other ways than from isoprene.