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Nanostructures, Thermoresponsiveness, and Assembly Mechanism of Hydrogel Microspheres during Aqueous Free-Radical Precipitation Polymerization

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posted on 23.12.2020, 16:19 by Yuichiro Nishizawa, Haruka Minato, Takumi Inui, Takayuki Uchihashi, Daisuke Suzuki
Although techniques to produce uniformly sized hydrogel microspheres (microgels) by aqueous free-radical precipitation polymerization are well established, the details of the polymerization process remain mysterious. In the present study, the structural evolution and thermoresponsiveness of the developing microgels during the polymerization were evaluated by temperature-controlled high-speed atomic force microscopy. This analysis clarified that the swelling properties of the precursor microgels formed in the early stages of the polymerization are quite low due to the high incorporation of cross-linkers and that non-thermoresponsive deca-nanosized spherical domains are already present in the precursor microgels. Furthermore, we succeeded in tracking the formation of nuclei and their growth process, which has never been fully understood, in aqueous solution by real-time observations. These findings will help us to design functional microgels with the desired nanostructures via precipitation polymerization.

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