Diffusion coefficients of small molecules in a model composite of spherical nanoparticles and polymer with attractive interfacial interactions are reduced from that in the pure polymer, to a degree far below the level expected from geometric tortuosity arguments. We determine whether such dramatic reductions are due to modifications to the matrix polymer free volume near the nanoparticle surface, or alternatively are due to energetic attractions between the diffusants and nanoparticle surface. We performed ethyl acetate sorption experiments within the vicinity of the polymer glass transition (Tg ≤ T ≤ Tg + 25 K) for a model polymer/nanoparticle composite, silica-filled poly(methyl acrylate). By application of the Vrentas-Duda free volume theory of diffusion we have decoupled the energetic effects from those related to free-volume and segmental dynamics. While the latter is unaffected by addition of nanoparticles, the energy needed for the ethyl acetate diffusant to overcome neighboring attractive forces doubles after adding 40 vol% nanoparticles with a diameter of 14 nm. This is qualitatively consistent with hydrogen bonding interactions between the silica surface and ethyl acetate slowing its rate of diffusion. On the other hand for benzene, which does not hydrogen bond to the silica surface, diffusion coefficients that can be explained by tortuosity effects were obtained. This work provides quantitative evidence that the diffusant-filler energetic interactions and geometric blocking effects can be fully responsible for the substantially reduced diffusivity commonly observed in polymer/nanoparticle composite systems.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors gratefully thank the National Science Foundation for funding through the IGERT Program for the Study of Multiscale Phenomena in Soft Materials. The authors thank Shane Harton for providing the PMA sample used in this study, Jad Cooper for writing a LabView program used in data acquisition, and a grant from the Pall Corporation that enabled purchase of the RQCM system.