Layer-By-Layer Self-Assembly of Polyelectrolytic Block Copolymer Worms on a Planar Substrate

Cationic and anionic block copolymer worms are prepared by polymerization-induced self-assembly via reversible addition–fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) aqueous dispersion copolymerization of 2-hydroxypropyl methacrylate and glycidyl methacrylate (GlyMA), using a binary mixture of a nonionic poly­(ethylene oxide) macromolecular RAFT agent and either a cationic poly­([2-(methacryloyloxy)­ethyl]­trimethylammonium chloride) or an anionic poly­(potassium 3-sulfopropyl methacrylate) macromolecular RAFT agent. In each case, covalent stabilization of the worm cores was achieved via reaction of the epoxide groups on the GlyMA repeat units with 3-mercaptopropyltriethoxysilane. Aqueous electrophoresis studies indicated a pH-independent mean zeta potential of +40 mV and −39 mV for the cationic and anionic copolymer worms, respectively. These worms are expected to mimic the rigid rod behavior of water-soluble polyelectrolyte chains in the absence of added salt. The kinetics of adsorption of the cationic worms onto a planar anionic silicon wafer was examined at pH 5 and was found to be extremely fast at 1.0 w/w % copolymer concentration in the absence of added salt. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) analysis indicated that a relatively constant worm surface coverage of 16% was achieved at 20 °C for adsorption times ranging from just 2 s up to 2 min. Furthermore, the successive layer-by-layer deposition of cationic and anionic copolymer worms onto planar surfaces was investigated using SEM, ellipsometry, and surface zeta potential measurements. These techniques confirmed that the deposition of oppositely charged worms resulted in a monotonic increase in the mean layer thickness, with a concomitant surface charge reversal occurring on addition of each new worm layer. Unexpectedly, two distinct linear regimes were observed when plotting the mean layer thickness against the total number of adsorbed worm layers, with a steeper gradient (corresponding to thicker layers) being observed after the deposition of six worm layers.