Critical salt effects in the swelling behavior of a weak polybasic brush

Joshua D. Willott, Timothy J. Murdoch, Ben A. Humphreys, Steve Edmondson, Grant B. Webber, Erica J. Wanless*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


The swelling behavior of poly(2-(diethylamino)ethyl methacrylate) (PDEA) brushes in response to changes in solution pH and ionic strength has been investigated. The brushes were synthesized by ARGET ATRP methodology at the silica-aqueous solution interface via two different surface-bound initiator approaches: electrostatically adsorbed cationic macroinitiator and covalently anchored silane-based ATRP initiator moieties. The pH-response of these brushes is studied as a function of the solvated brush thickness in a constant flow regime that elucidates the intrinsic behavior of polymer brushes. In situ ellipsometry equilibrium measurements show the pH-induced brush swelling and collapse transitions are hysteretic in nature. Furthermore, high temporal resolution kinetic studies demonstrate that protonation and solvent ingress during swelling occur much faster than the brush charge neutralization and solvent expulsion during collapse. This hysteresis is attributed to the formation of a dense outer region or skin during collapse that retards solvent egress. Moreover, at a constant pH below its pKa, the PDEA brush exhibited a critical conformational change in the range 0.5-1 mM electrolyte, a range much narrower than predicted by the theory of the osmotic brush regime. This behavior is attributed to the hydrophobicity of the collapsed brush. The swelling and collapse kinetics for this salt-induced transition are nearly identical. This is in contrast to the asymmetry in the rate of the pH-induced response, suggesting an alternative mechanism for the two processes dependent on the nature of the environmental trigger.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1827-1836
Number of pages10
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2014
Externally publishedYes


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