Designing Acrylic Block Copolymers with Multiple Hydrogen Bonding or Multiple Ionic Bonding
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The dynamic characteristics of hydrogen and ionic bonding contributes to the reversible properties of acrylic polymers, opening new avenues for designing materials with mechanical strength and processability. These non-covalent interactions function as physical crosslinks, which provide enhanced structural and mechanical integrity to acrylic block copolymers. The strong hydrogen bonding or ionic interaction also directs self-assembly to hierarchical microstructures, which enables many applications including thermoplastic elastomers and energy storage devices. Inspired by complementary hydrogen bonding interactions between nucleobase pairs in DNA, a series of bioinspired nucleobase-acrylate monomers such as adenine acrylate (AdA), thymine acrylate (ThA), cytosine acrylate (CyA) were designed, whose synthesis were afforded by aza-Michael addition. Among those nucleobases, cytosine arises as a unique category. It is not only able to self-associate via weak hydrogen bonds, but also forms quadruple hydrogen-bond bearing units (ureido-cytosine) when functionalized with isocyanates. Reversible addition-fragmentation chain transfer polymerization (RAFT) yielded acrylic ABA triblock copolymers with CyA external hard blocks. A subsequent post-functionalization using hexyl-isocyanate generated the corresponding ureido-cytosine acrylate(UCyA)-containing triblock copolymers. The self-complementary quadruple hydrogen bonding in the UCyA polymers achieved a broader service temperature window, while the alkyl chain ends of UCyA units allowed tunability of the mechanical strength to apply as thermoplastic elastomers. In addition, quadruple hydrogen bonding induced stronger propensity of self-assembly and denser packing of the polymers, which contributed to a well-defined ordered morphology and enhanced resistance to moisture uptake. A facile 2-step synthesis provided doubly-charged styrenic DABCO salt monomer(VBDC₁₈BrCl) containing an octadecyl tail. RAFT polymerization allowed the preparation of DABCO ABA block copolymers with defined molecular weights and low polydispersity. Thermal analysis revealed a melting transition of the VBDC₁₈BrCl block copolymer resulting from the side-chain crystallization of the long alkyl tail. Systematic mechanical comparisons between DABCO salt-containing copolymers and the corresponding singly-charged polymer controls demonstrated superior mechanical properties attributable to a stronger ionic interaction between the doubly-charged groups. Morphological characterizations revealed a well-ordered lamellar microstructure and a unique three-phase morphology of the DABCO block copolymers, which involve a soft phase, a hard phase, and an ionic aggregates domain dispersed within the hard domain.
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