Blending Linear and Cyclic Block Copolymers to Manipulate Nanolithographic Feature Dimensions

AD Goodson and MS Rick and JE Troxler and HS Ashbaugh and JNL Albert, ACS APPLIED POLYMER MATERIALS (2021).

DOI: 10.1021/acsapm.1c01313

Block copolymers (BCPs) consist of two or more covalently bound chemically distinct homopolymer blocks. These macromolecules have emerging applications in photonics, membrane separations, and nanolithography stemming from their self-assembly into regular nanoscale structures. Theory suggests that cyclic BCPs should form features up to 40% smaller than their linear analogs while also exhibiting superior thin-film stability and assembly dynamics. However, the complex syntheses required to produce cyclic polymers mean that a need for pure cyclic BCPs would present a challenge to large-scale manufacturing. Here, we employ dissipative particle dynamics simulations to probe the self-assembly behavior of cyclic/linear BCP blends, focusing on nanofeature size and interfacial width as these qualities are critical to nanopatterning applications. We find that for mixtures of symmetric cyclic and linear polymers with equivalent lengths, up to 10% synthetic impurity has a minimal impact on cyclic BCP feature dimensions and interfacial roughness. On the other hand, blending with cyclic BCPs provides a route to "fine-tune" linear BCP feature sizes. We analyze simulated blend domain spacings within the context of strong segregation theory and find significant deviations between simulation and theory that arise from molecular-level packing motifs not included in theory. These insights into blend self-assembly will assist experimentalists in rationally designing BCP materials for advanced nanolithography applications.

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