Silica-Assisted Nucleation of Polymer Foam Cells with Nanoscopic Dimensions: Impact of Particle Size, Line Tension, and Surface Functionality

Shanqiu Liu, Rik Eijkelenkamp, Joost Duvigneau*, G. Julius Vancso*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)
230 Downloads (Pure)


Core-shell nanoparticles consisting of silica as core and surface-grafted poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS) as shell with different diameters were prepared and used as heterogeneous nucleation agents to obtain CO2-blown poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) nanocomposite foams. PDMS was selected as the shell material as it possesses a low surface energy and high CO2-philicity. The successful synthesis of core-shell nanoparticles was confirmed by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, thermogravimetric analysis, and transmission electron microscopy. The cell size and cell density of the PMMA micro- and nanocellular materials were determined by scanning electron microscopy. The cell nucleation efficiency using core-shell nanoparticles was significantly enhanced when compared to that of unmodified silica. The highest nucleation efficiency observed had a value of ∼0.5 for nanoparticles with a core diameter of 80 nm. The particle size dependence of cell nucleation efficiency is discussed taking into account line tension effects. Complete engulfment by the polymer matrix of particles with a core diameter below 40 nm at the cell wall interface was observed corresponding to line tension values of approximately 0.42 nN. This line tension significantly increases the energy barrier of heterogeneous nucleation and thus reduces the nucleation efficiency. The increase of the CO2 saturation pressure to 300 bar prior to batch foaming resulted in an increased line tension length. We observed a decrease of the heterogeneous nucleation efficiency for foaming after saturation with CO2 at 300 bar, which we attribute to homogenous nucleation becoming more favorable at the expense of heterogeneous nucleation in this case. Overall, it is shown that the contribution of line tension to the free energy barrier of heterogeneous foam cell nucleation must be considered to understand foaming of viscoelastic materials. This finding emphasizes the need for new strategies including the use of designer nucleating particles to enhance the foam cell nucleation efficiency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37929-37940
Number of pages12
JournalACS applied materials & interfaces
Issue number43
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017


  • Heterogeneous foam cell nucleation
  • Highly curved core-shell nanoparticle
  • Interface
  • Line tension
  • Nanocellular foam
  • Surface functionalization
  • 2023 OA procedure


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