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Synthesis and Aqueous Solution Properties of Shape-Shifting Stimulus-Responsive Diblock Copolymer Nano-Objects
Chemistry of Materials  (IF9.811),  Pub Date : 2021-09-28, DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.1c02096
Oliver J. Deane, James Jennings, Thomas J. Neal, Osama M. Musa, Alan Fernyhough, Steven P. Armes

We report the synthesis of poly(N-(2-acryloyloxyethyl)pyrrolidone)-poly(4-hydroxybutyl acrylate) (PNAEP85-PHBAx) diblock copolymer nano-objects via reversible addition–fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) aqueous dispersion polymerization of 4-hydroxybutyl acrylate (HBA) at 30 °C using an efficient two-step one-pot protocol. Given the relatively low glass transition temperature of the PHBA block, these nano-objects required covalent stabilization prior to transmission electron microscopy (TEM) studies. This was achieved by core crosslinking using glutaraldehyde. TEM analysis of the glutaraldehyde-fixed nano-objects combined with small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) studies of linear nano-objects confirmed that pure spheres, worms or vesicles could be obtained at 20 °C in an acidic aqueous solution by simply varying the mean degree of polymerization (x) of the PHBA block. Aqueous electrophoresis, dynamic light scattering and TEM studies indicated that raising the dispersion pH above the pKa of the terminal carboxylic acid group located on each PNAEP chain induced a vesicle-to-sphere transition. 1H NMR studies of linear PNAEP85-PHBAx nano-objects indicated a concomitant increase in the degree of partial hydration of PHBA chains on switching from pH 2-3 to pH 7-8, which is interpreted in terms of a surface plasticization mechanism. Rheological and SAXS studies confirmed that the critical temperature corresponding to the maximum worm gel viscosity could be tuned from 2 to 50 °C by adjusting the PHBA DP. Such tunability is expected to be useful for potential biomedical applications of these worm gels.