Polymer Science Faculty Research


Molecular Structure of an Alkyl-Side-Chain Polymer-Water Interface: Origins of Contact Angle Hysteresis

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A new and direct approach to verify surface heterogeneity as the microscopic origin of contact-angle hysteresis is demonstrated. IR-visible sum-frequency-generation spectroscopy (SFG) was used to selectively probe the molecules at the interface of an alkyl-side-chain polymer [poly(vinyl n-octadecyl carbamate-co-vinyl acetate)] with water. The spectra indicate that in contact with water, the polymer surface is heterogeneous (having areas of differing surface energies). This evidence of surface heterogeneity supports the hysteresis observed in the advancing and receding contact angles of the polymer surface with water. The same measurements made for the chemically and structurally similar surface of an octadecyltrichlorosilane self-assembled monolayer indicates a homogeneous surface at the water interface. In this case, contact-angle hysteresis measurements implicate surface roughness as the cause of hysteresis. Atomic force microscopy measurements of roughness for these surfaces further support our conclusions. The polymer-water interface was probed using SFG at above-ambient temperatures, and an order-to-disorder transition (ODT) of alkyl side chains at the interface was observed, which closely follows the melting of crystalline side chains in the bulk. This transition explains the increased wettability of the polymer, by water, when the temperature is raised above the bulk melting temperature. Furthermore, the irreversibility of this ODT suggests that the disordered polymer-water interface is the thermodynamic equilibrium state, whereas the before-heating structure of this interface is a kinetically hindered metastable state.

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