Correlation between Grafting Density and Confined Crystallization Behavior of Polyethylene Glycol Grafted to Silica
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Macromolecules 52(4) : 1505−1516 (2019)
The interfacial interactions of polymer-nanoparticles have dramatical effects on the crystallization behavior of grafted polymers. In this study, methoxy polyethylene glycol (MPEG) (molecular weights 750, 2000 and 4000 g mol−1) was grafted onto amino-modified nanosized silica (SiO2-NH2) by the “grafting to” method. The effects of the grafting density and molecular weight on the confined crystallization of grafted MPEG (MPEG-g-SiO2) were systematically investigated by differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) and wide-angle X-ray scattering (WAXS). It was found that confinement effects are stronger when lower molecular weights of grafted MPEG are employed. These grafted MPEG chains are more difficult to stretch out on SiO2-NH2 surfaces than when they are free in the bulk polymer. Both crystallization temperature (Tc) and crystallinity of grafted MPEG chains decrease with reductions of grafting density. Additionally, covalent bonding effects and interfacial interaction confinement effects are strengthened by the decrease in grafting density, leading to an increase in decomposition temperature and to the disappearance of the self-nucleation Domain (i.e., Domain II), when self-nucleation experiments are performed by DSC. Overall isothermal crystallization kinetics was studied by DSC and the results were analyzed with the Avrami equation. An Avrami index of n≈3 was obtained for neat MPEG (indicating that instantaneous spherulites are formed). However, in the case of MPEG-g-SiO2 with the lowest grafting density, the Avrami index of (n) was less than 1 (first order kinetics or lower), indicating that nucleation is the determining factor of the overall crystallization kinetics, a signature for confined crystallization. At the same time, the crystallization from the melt for this MPEG-g-SiO2 with the lowest grafting density occurs at Tc ≈-30 ºC, a temperature close to the glass transition temperature (Tg) of MPEG, indicating that this confined MPEG crystallizes from homogeneous nuclei.