Cononsolvency of water/methanol mixtures for PNIPAM and PS-b-NIPAM. Pathway of aggregate formation investigated using time-resolved SANS
We investigate the cononsolvency effect of poly(N-isopropyl acrylamide) (PNIPAM) in mixtures of water and methanol. Two systems are studied: micellar solutions of polystyrene-b-poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PS-b-PNIPAM) diblock copolymers and, as a reference, solutions of PNIPAM homopolymers, both at a concentration of 20 mg/mL in D2O. Using a stopped-flow instrument, fully deuterated methanol was rapidly added to these solutions at volume fractions between 10 and 20%. Time-resolved turbidimetry revealed aggregate formation within 10 100 s. The structural changes on mesoscopic length scales were followed by time-resolved small-angle neutron scattering (TR-SANS) with a time resolution of 0.1 s. In both systems, the pathway of the aggregation depends on the content of deuterated methanol; however, it is fundamentally different for homopolymer and diblock copolymer solutions: In the former, very large aggregates (>150 nm) are formed within the dead time of the setup, and a concentration gradient appears at their surface in the late stages. In contrast, the growth of the aggregates in the latter system features different regimes, and the final aggregate size is∼50 nm, thus much smaller than for the homopolymer. For the diblock copolymer, the time dependence of the aggregate radius can be described by two models: In the initial stage, the diffusion-limited coalescence model describes the data well; however, the resulting coalescence time is unreasonably high. In the late stage, a logarithmic coalescence model based on an energy barrier which is proportional to the aggregate radius is successfully applied.