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Block Copolymers: Applications


from 7/2/2013

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Block Copolymers



"Block copolymers are interesting because they can "microphase separate" to form periodic nanostructures, as in the styrene-butadiene-styrene block copolymer shown at right. The polymer is known as Kraton and is used for shoe soles and adhesives. Owing to the microfine structure, the transmission electron microscope or TEM was needed to examine the structure. The butadiene matrix was stained with osmium tetroxide to provide contrast in the image. The material was made by living polymerization so that the blocks are almost monodisperse, so helping to create a very regular microstructure. The molecular weight of the polystyrene blocks in the main picture is 102,000; the inset picture has a molecular weight of 91,000, producing slightly smaller domains.

Microphase separation is a situation similar to that of oil and water. Oil and water are immiscible - they phase separate. Due to incompatibility between the blocks, block copolymers undergo a similar phase separation. Because the blocks are covalently bonded to each other, they cannot demix macroscopically as water and oil. In "microphase separation" the blocks form nanometer-sized structures. Depending on the relative lengths of each block, several morphologies can be obtained. In diblock copolymers, sufficiently different block lengths lead to nanometer-sized spheres of one block in a matrix of the second (for example PMMA in polystyrene). Using less different block lengths, a "hexagonally packed cylinder" geometry can be obtained. Blocks of similar length form layers (often called lamellae in the technical literature). Between the cylindrical and lamellar phase is the gyroid phase. The nanoscale structures created from block copolymers could potentially be used for creating devices for use in computer memory, nanoscale-templating and nanoscale separations.

Polymer scientists use thermodynamics to describe how the different blocks interact. The product of the degree of polymerization, n, and the Flory-Huggins interaction parameter, , gives an indication of how incompatible the two blocks are and whether or not they will microphase separate. For example, a diblock copolymer of symmetric composition will microphase separate if the product is greater than 10.5. If is less than 10.5, the blocks will mix and microphase separation is not observed.

(Wikipedia, Block Copolymers, 6/27/2012)


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(RDC 6/5/2012)


Roger D. Corneliussen

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Copyright 2013 by Roger D. Corneliussen.
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* Date of latest addition; date of first entry is 7/2/2013.