Thermo-responsive Diblock Copolymer Worm Gels in Non-polar Solvents

Lee A. Fielding, Jacob A. Lane, Matthew J. Derry, Oleksandr O. Mykhaylyk, Steven P. Armes

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Benzyl methacrylate (BzMA) is polymerized using a poly(lauryl methacrylate) macromolecular chain transfer agent (PLMA macro-CTA) using reversible addition–fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) polymerization at 70 °C in n-dodecane. This choice of solvent leads to an efficient dispersion polymerization, with polymerization-induced self-assembly (PISA) occurring via the growing PBzMA block to produce a range of PLMA–PBzMA diblock copolymer nano-objects, including spheres, worms, and vesicles. In the present study, particular attention is paid to the worm phase, which forms soft free-standing gels at 20 °C due to multiple inter-worm contacts. Such worm gels exhibit thermo-responsive behavior: heating above 50 °C causes degelation due to the onset of a worm-to-sphere transition. Degelation occurs because isotropic spheres interact with each other much less efficiently than the highly anisotropic worms. This worm-to-sphere thermal transition is essentially irreversible on heating a dilute solution (0.10% w/w) but is more or less reversible on heating a more concentrated dispersion (20% w/w). The relatively low volatility of n-dodecane facilitates variable-temperature rheological studies, which are consistent with eventual reconstitution of the worm phase on cooling to 20 °C. Variable-temperature 1H NMR studies conducted in d26-dodecane confirm partial solvation of the PBzMA block at elevated temperature: surface plasticization of the worm cores is invoked to account for the observed change in morphology, because this is sufficient to increase the copolymer curvature and hence induce a worm-to-sphere transition. Small-angle X-ray scattering and TEM are used to investigate the structural changes that occur during the worm-to-sphere-to-worm thermal cycle; experiments conducted at 1.0 and 5.0% w/w demonstrate the concentration-dependent (ir)reversibility of these morphological transitions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5790-5798
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2014

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