Effect of Solvent Quality on Laminar Slip Flow Penetration of Poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) Films with an Exploration of the Mass Transport Mechanism

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The effect of solvent quality on the slip flow penetration of polymer films was evaluated by monitoring small-molecule mass transport under varying laminar flow rates using Förster resonance energy transfer in combination with total internal reflectance fluorescence microscopy (FRET-TIRFM). For thin films of poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (pNIPAM), solvents with solvent quality ranging from good to poor were studied. The solvents used were composed of varying mole ratios of methanol and water in order to take advantage of the unique cononsolvency phenomenon of pNIPAM such that differences in the physicochemical properties of these solvents were insignificant for fluorescence detection. FRET quenching of a donor fluorophore covalently tethered on the substrate surface at the bottom of the pNIPAM film by a solution-confined acceptor was monitored as a function of time. Quenching curves were fit to a combined Taylor-Aris-Fickian mass transport model for the acceptor, rhodamine B (RhB) or 2-nitrobenzylaclohol (2-NBA), allowing apparent diffusion coefficients to be determined and used to assess slip flow penetration into the polymer film. An increase in the apparent diffusion coefficient of tracer molecules was observed with increasing laminar flow rate for all solvents, indicating that mass transport processes in the pNIPAM film are significantly perturbed by laminar slip flow penetration. In going from poor solvents, 31 mol % MeOH/H2O and 20 mol % MeOH/H2O, to the theta solvent, 13 mol % MeOH/H2O, and finally to a good solvent, 100% methanol, the slip length increases from 25 to 37 to 70 to 128 nm, with the corresponding percentage of the film penetrated by slip flow increasing from 19 to 27 to 42 to 57%, respectively. The apparent diffusion coefficients of the two acceptors, RhB and 2-NBA, which differ substantially in size and charge, in pNIPAM films under identical conditions were found to be of the same order of magnitude, albeit with a small difference (∼10%) due to inherently different diffusive properties. Therefore, the dominant mechanism for the mass transport of small molecules in densely grafted thin pNIPAM brush films is suggested to be linear Fickian diffusion under the chosen laminar flow conditions with linear flow velocities ranging from 192 to 2952 μm/s. High-quality fits to a Taylor-Aris-Fickian diffusion model of the experimental breakthrough curves obtained with both acceptor molecules further substantiate the proper use of this model and the validity of the FRET-TIRFM method.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7468-7478
Number of pages11
Issue number30
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Surfaces and Interfaces
  • Spectroscopy
  • Electrochemistry


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