Poly(L-Lactic Acid) Langmuir Monolayers at the Air/Water Interface and Langmuir-Blodgett Films on Solid Substrates: Phase Behavior, Surface Morphology, and Crystallinity


TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


Controlling the surface morphology and degree of crystallinity of poly(L-lactic acid) (PLLA) substrates have recently attracted considerable attention because of their applications in cell adhesion, tissue engineering, and drug delivery. Several techniques have been used to fabricate PLLA substrates, some of which may be invalid because PLLA can degrade during fabrication processes. This dissertation provides the Langmuir-Blodgett (LB) technique as a mechanism for fabricating PLLA substrates at temperatures where PLLA degradation is uncommon.

In order to fully understand surface morphologies of PLLA LB-films, studies of Langmuir monolayers at the air/water (A/W) interface using surface pressure-area (Pi-A) isotherm and Brewster angle microscopy (BAM) are vital. PLLA exhibits a first-order liquid expanded to condensed (LE/LC) phase transition with molar mass dependent critical phenomena, the first such observation for a homopolymer Langmuir monolayer. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) images of PLLA LB-films prepared in the LC phase exhibit well-ordered lamellar structures. Molar mass scaling of lamellar dimensions, x-ray reflectivity, and reflection absorption infrared spectroscopy (RAIRS) measurements on PLLA LB-films are consistent with PLLA existing as single molecule 10/3-helices at the A/W interface.

Morphologies observed after collapse of the LC monolayer are dependent upon the collapse mechanism and subsequent thermal treatment. For temperatures below the LE/LC critical temperature (Tc), two mechanisms are identified for the formation of three dimensional structures: a buckling and stacking of lamellar monolayers on top of existing lamellae during constant compression rate experiments, and a modified nucleation and growth mechanism during isobaric area relaxation experiments. PLLA LB-films prepared in different Langmuir film phases at temperatures below Tc all contain lamellae with different surface roughnesses and similar helical content. Conventional thermal annealing studies on PLLA LB-films reveal that well-ordered lamellar features are destroyed after annealing the LB-films at bulk crystallization temperature through a melting-recrystallization process, which is confirmed by RAIRS and AFM.

Our results may prove useful for studying critical behavior and experimentally testing scaling predictions for two dimensions, the development and testing of theories for crystallization in confined geometries, and separating the roles that roughness and crystallinity play in cell adhesion and spreading on biocompatible polymer surfaces.



Langmuir-Blodgett films, Langmuir monolayers, Poly(L-lactic acid), the LE/LC phase transition