Polymer Engineering Faculty Research

Thermally Reversible Surface Morphology Transition in Thin Diblock Copolymer Films

Alamgir Karim


Many phase transitions exhibit ordering transitions at the boundary of the material that are distinct from its interior where intermolecular interactions can be significantly different. The present work considers the existence of a surface thermodynamic order-order transition between two distinct morphologies in thin block copolymer (BCP) films that are of interest in nanomanufacturing applications. Specifically, we find a thermally reversible interfacial transition between sphere-like structures and cylinders in flow-coated films of poly(styrene-block-methyl methacrylate) (PS-b-PMMA), where the BCP forms a cylinder microphase in the bulk. We present direct evidence from atomic force microscopy (AFM) of ion-etched films and grazing-incidence small-angle X-ray scattering (GISAXS) on films without etching, which shows that the order-order transition is restricted to the outer layer of the film, while the film interior remains in the cylinder state. Moreover, we find this order-order transition to be insensitive to film thickness over the range investigated (40-170 nm). This morphological transition is of importance in characterizing the thermodynamics and dynamics of thin BCP films used as templates in nanomanufacturing applications.