Poly(ethylene oxide) (PEO) is a key material in solid polymer electrolytes, biomaterials, drug delivery devices, and sensors. Through the use of hydrogen bonds, layer-by-layer (LBL) assemblies allow for the incorporation of PEO in a controllable tunable thin film, but little is known about the bulk properties of LBL thin films because they are often tightly bound to the substrate of assembly. The construction technique involves alternately exposing a substrate to a hydrogen-bond-donating polymer (poly(acrylic acid)) and a hydrogen-bond-accepting polymer (PEO) in solution, producing mechanically stable interdigitated layers of PEO and poly(acrylic acid) (PAA). Here, we introduce a new method of LBL film isolation using low-energy surfaces that facilitate the removal of substantial mass and area of the film, allowing, for the first time, the thermal and mechanical characterization that was previously difficult or impossible to perform. To further understand the morphology of the nanoscale blend, the glass transition is measured as a function of assembly pH via differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) and dynamic mechanical analysis (DMA). The resulting trends give clues as to how the morphology and composition of a hydrogen-bonded composite film evolve as a function of pH. We also demonstrate that LBL films of PEO and PAA behave as flexible elastomeric blends at ambient conditions and allow for nanoscale control of thickness and film composition. Furthermore, we show that the crystallization of PEO is fully suppressed in these composite assemblies, a fact that proves advantageous for applications such as ultrathin hydrogels, membranes, and solid-state polymer electrolytes.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Colloid and Surface Chemistry