Block copolymer self-assembly fundamentals and applications in formulation of nano-structured fluids
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Dispersions of nanoparticles in polymer matrices form hybrid materials that can exhibit superior structural and functional properties and find applications in e.g. thermo-plastics, electronics, polymer electrolytes, catalysis, paint formulations, and drug delivery. Control over the particle location and orientation in the polymeric matrices are essential in order to realize the enhanced mechanical, electrical, and optical properties of the nanohybrids. Block copolymers, composed of two or more different monomers, are promising for controlling particle location and orientation because of their ability to organize into ordered nanostructures. Fundamental questions pertaining to nanoparticle-polymer interfacial interactions remain open and formulate the objectives of our investigation. Particle-polymer enthalpic and entropic interactions control the nanoparticle dispersion in polymer matrices. Synthetic chemical methods for modifying the particle surface in order to control polymer-particle interactions are involved and large scale production is not possible. In the current approach, a physical method is employed to control polymer-particle interactions. The use of commercially available solvents is found to be effective in modifying particle-polymer interfacial interactions. The approach is applicable to a wide range of particle-polymer systems and can thereby enable large scale processing of polymer nanohybrids. The systems of silica nanoparticles dispersed in long-range or short-range self-assembled structures of aqueous poly(ethylene oxide)-poly(propylene oxide)-poly(ethylene oxide) (PEO-PPO-PEO) block copolymers (Pluronics) is considered here. The effect of various parameters such as the presence of organic solvents, pH, and particle size on the block copolymer organization and the ensuing particle-polymer interactions are investigated. Favorable surface interactions between the deprotonated silica nanoparticle and PEO-rich domain facilitate particle incorporation in the cylindrical lyotropic mesophase formed by hydrated PEO-PPO-PEO block copolymer. The amount of nanoparticle dispersed is limited to 10 wt% due to restrictions posed by a combination of thermodynamics and geometry. Incorporation of deprotonated nanoparticles by replacing equal mass of water did not affect the lattice parameter of the hexagonal lyotropic liquid crystalline structures formed by hydrated PEO-PPO-PEO block copolymer. The incorporation of protonated NPs resulted in an increase in the lattice parameter due to stronger nanoparticle-polymer enthalpic interactions. Two dimensional swelling exponent (d ∼ Φ polymer -0.65 ) suggests that deprotonated nanoparticles are located inside the PEO-rich domains, away from PEO-PPO interfaces. The presence of organic solvents screen the effect of protonated NPs on the lattice parameter of the hexagonal lyotropic liquid crystalline structures formed by hydrated PEO-PPO-PEO block copolymer.