In this study we report detailed information on the internal structure of PNIPAM-b-PEG-b-PNIPAM nanoparticles formed from self-assembly in aqueous solutions upon increase in temperature. NMR spectroscopy, light scattering and small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) were used to monitor different stages of nanoparticle formation as a function of temperature, providing insight into the fundamental processes involved. The presence of PEG in a copolymer structure significantly affects the formation of nanoparticles, making their transition to occur over a broader temperature range. The crucial parameter that controls the transition is the ratio of PEG/PNIPAM. For pure PNIPAM, the transition is sharp; the higher the PEG/PNIPAM ratio results in a broader transition. This behavior is explained by different mechanisms of PNIPAM block incorporation during nanoparticle formation at different PEG/PNIPAM ratios. Contrast variation experiments using SANS show that the structure of nanoparticles above cloud point temperatures for PNIPAM-b-PEG-b-PNIPAM copolymers is drastically different from the structure of PNIPAM mesoglobules. In contrast with pure PNIPAM mesoglobules, where solid-like particles and chain network with a mesh size of 1-3 nm are present; nanoparticles formed from PNIPAM-b-PEG-b-PNIPAM copolymers have non-uniform structure with "frozen" areas interconnected by single chains in Gaussian conformation. SANS data with deuterated "invisible" PEG blocks imply that PEG is uniformly distributed inside of a nanoparticle. It is kinetically flexible PEG blocks which affect the nanoparticle formation by prevention of PNIPAM microphase separation.
|Number of pages||10|
|Journal||Langmuir : the ACS journal of surfaces and colloids|
|Publication status||Published - 9 May 2016|