Phase Behavior of Gradient Copolymer Melts with Different Gradient Strengths Revealed by Mesoscale Simulations

P Beranek and P Posocco and Z Posel, POLYMERS, 12, 2462 (2020).

DOI: 10.3390/polym12112462

Design and preparation of functional nanomaterials with specific properties requires precise control over their microscopic structure. A prototypical example is the self-assembly of diblock copolymers, which generate highly ordered structures controlled by three parameters: the chemical incompatibility between blocks, block size ratio and chain length. Recent advances in polymer synthesis have allowed for the preparation of gradient copolymers with controlled sequence chemistry, thus providing additional parameters to tailor their assembly. These are polydisperse monomer sequence, block size distribution and gradient strength. Here, we employ dissipative particle dynamics to describe the self-assembly of gradient copolymer melts with strong, intermediate, and weak gradient strength and compare their phase behavior to that of corresponding diblock copolymers. Gradient melts behave similarly when copolymers with a strong gradient are considered. Decreasing the gradient strength leads to the widening of the gyroid phase window, at the expense of cylindrical domains, and a remarkable extension of the lamellar phase. Finally, we show that weak gradient strength enhances chain packing in gyroid structures much more than in lamellar and cylindrical morphologies. Importantly, this work also provides a link between gradient copolymers morphology and parameters such as chemical incompatibility, chain length and monomer sequence as support for the rational design of these nanomaterials.

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