Mechanical properties of conjugated polymers and polymer-fullerene composites as a function of molecular structure

Suchol Savagatrup, Aditya S. Makaram, Daniel J. Burke, Darren J. Lipomi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

216 Scopus citations


Despite the importance of mechanical compliance in most applications of semiconducting polymers, the effects of structural parameters of these materials on their mechanical properties are typically not emphasized. This paper examines the effect of length of the pendant group on the tensile modulus and brittleness for a series of regioregular poly(3-alkylthiophenes) (P3ATs) and their blends with a soluble fullerene derivative, PCBM. The tensile modulus decreases with increasing length of the alkyl side-chain, from 1.87 GPa for butyl side chains to 0.16 GPa for dodecyl chains. The moduli of P3AT:PCBM blends films are greater than those of the pure polymers by factors of 2-4. A theoretical model produces a trend in the effect of alkyl side chain on tensile modulus that follows closely to the experimental measurements. Tensile modulus correlates with brittleness, as the strain at which cracks appear is 6% for P3BT and >60% for P3OT. Adhesion of the P3AT film to a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) substrate is believed to play a role in an apparent increase in brittleness from P3OT to P3DDT. The additive 1,8-Diiodooctane (DIO) reduces the modulus of P3HT:PCBM blend by a factor of 3. These results could enable mechanically robust, flexible, and stretchable electronics. This paper describes the large effect of small changes in a structural characteristic - the length of the alkyl side chain - on the elasticity and ductility of conjugated polymers. Measurements of tensile modulus are complemented with measurements of ductility. These experiments could influence the selection and design of new organic semiconductors in flexible and stretchable applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1169-1181
Number of pages13
JournalAdvanced Functional Materials
Issue number8
StatePublished - Feb 26 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • conjugated polymers
  • mechanical properties
  • organic photovoltaics
  • polythiophene
  • stretchable electronics
  • stretchable solar cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics

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