Synthesis and self-assembly of amphiphilic semi-brush and dual brush block copolymers in solution and on surfaces
The combination of two techniques of controlled free radical polymerization, namely the reversible addition fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) and the atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP) techniques, together with the use of a macromonomer allowed the synthesis of symmetrical triblock copolymers, designed as amphiphilic dual brushes. One type of brush was made of poly(n-butyl acrylate) as soft hydrophobic block, i.e. characterized by a low glass transition temperature, while the other one was made of hydrophilic poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG). The new triblock polymers represent "giant surfactants" according to their molecular architecture. The hydrophobic and hydrophilic blocks microphase separate in the bulk. In aqueous solution, they aggregate into globular micellar aggregates, their size being determined by the length of the stretched polymer molecules. As determined by the combination of various scattering techniques for the dual brush copolymer, a rather compact structure is formed, which is dominated by the large hydrophobic poly(n-butyl acrylate) block. The aggregation number for the dual brush is about 10 times larger than for the "semi-brush" precursor copolymer, due to the packing requirements for the much bulkier hydrophobic core. On mica surfaces the triblock copolymers adsorb with worm-like backbones and stretched out side chains.