Polymer Engineering Faculty Research


Relation between packing density and thermal transitions of alkyl chains on layered silicate and metal surfaces

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Self-assembled layers of alkyl chains grafted onto the surfaces of layered silicates, metal, and oxidic nanoparticles are utilized to control interactions with external media by tuning the packing density of the chains on the surface, head group functionality, and chain length. Characterization through experiment and simulation shows that the orientation of the alkyl layers and reversible phase transitions on heating are a function of the cross-sectional area of the alkyl chains in relation to the available surface area per alkyl chain. On even surfaces, a packing density less than 0.2 leads to nearly parallel orientation of the alkyl chains on the surface, a high degree of conformational disorder, and no reversible melting transitions. A packing density between 0.2 and 0.75 leads to intermediate inclination angles, semicrystalline order, and reversible melting transitions on heating. A packing density above 0.75 results in nearly vertical alignment of the surfactants on the surface, a high degree of crystalline character, and absence of reversible melting transitions. Curved surfaces can be understood by the same principle, taking into account a local radius of curvature and a distance-dependent packing density on the surface. In good approximation, this simple model is independent from the length of the alkyl chains (a minimum length of C10 is required to form sufficiently distinctive patterns), the chemical nature of the surface, and of the surfactant head group. These structural details primarily determine the functionality of alkyl modified surfaces and the temperature of thermal transitions.

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