In situ imaging and height reconstruction of phase separation processes in polymer blends during spin coating

S. Ebbens, R. Hodgkinson, A. Dunbar, J.R. Howse, A.J. Parnell, N. Clarke, S.J. Martin, P.D. Topham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Spin coating polymer blend thin films provides a method to produce multiphase functional layers of high uniformity covering large surface areas. Applications for such layers include photovoltaics and light-emitting diodes where performance relies upon the nanoscale phase separation morphology of the spun film. Furthermore, at micrometer scales, phase separation provides a route to produce self-organized structures for templating applications. Understanding the factors that determine the final phase-separated morphology in these systems is consequently an important goal. However, it has to date proved problematic to fully test theoretical models for phase separation during spin coating, due to the high spin speeds, which has limited the spatial resolution of experimental data obtained during the coating process. Without this fundamental understanding, production of optimized micro- and nanoscale structures is hampered. Here, we have employed synchronized stroboscopic illumination together with the high light gathering sensitivity of an electron-multiplying charge-coupled device camera to optically observe structure evolution in such blends during spin coating. Furthermore the use of monochromatic illumination has allowed interference reconstruction of three-dimensional topographies of the spin-coated film as it dries and phase separates with nanometer precision. We have used this new method to directly observe the phase separation process during spinning for a polymer blend (PS-PI) for the first time, providing new insights into the spin-coating process and opening up a route to understand and control phase separation structures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5124-5131
Number of pages8
JournalACS Nano
Issue number6
Early online date11 May 2011
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2011


Dive into the research topics of 'In situ imaging and height reconstruction of phase separation processes in polymer blends during spin coating'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this