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Self-assembly of double thermoresponsive block copolymers end-capped with complementary trimethylsilyl groups

: Weiss, J.; Böttcher, C.; Laschewsky, A.


Soft matter 7 (2011), No.2, pp.483-492
ISSN: 1744-683X
ISSN: 1744-6848
Journal Article
Fraunhofer IAP ()

A set of double thermoresponsive diblock copolymers poly(N-n-propylacrylamide)-block-poly(N-ethylacrylamide) (PNPAM-b-PNEAM) was synthesised by sequential reversible addition–fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) polymerisations. Using a twofold trimethylsilyl (TMS)-labeled RAFT-agent, the relative size of the two blocks was varied. While soluble as unimers below 15 °C, all copolymers exhibited thermally induced two-step self-assembly in water, due to distinct lower critical solution temperature (LCST) phase transitions of PNPAM (around 20 °C) and PNEAM (around 70 °C). Their temperature-dependent self-organisation in dilute aqueous solution was studied by turbidimetry, dynamic light scattering, transmission electron microscopy, and 1H NMR spectroscopy. The copolymers show distinct, two-step self-organisation behaviour with respect to transition temperatures, aggregate type and size, which can be correlated to the relative lengths of the low and high LCST blocks. For polymers having short blocks with low LCST, the first thermal transition induces the formation of individual micelles. Further heating above the second thermal transition results reversibly either in a shrink of the micelle size or in aggregation of the micelles, with hydrodynamic diameters below 250 nm. In contrast in the case of polymers having a long block with low LCST, the first thermal transition already leads to clusters of micelles, while the second thermal transition makes the clusters shrink. Noteworthy, the twofold TMS-labeled end groups report not only on the molar masses of the polymers, but can simultaneously serve as NMR-probes for the self-assembly process. The signal of the TMS-aryl end group displays a reversible temperature dependent, two-step splitting that is indicative of the self-organisation of the block copolymers.