The detailed nanostructure of composites formed from block copolymers and nanoparticles is known to depend sensitively on the preferred morphology of the block copolymer, on the shapes of the particles, and on interactions between the two components. But it can also depend on the kinetics of self-assembly in the polymer, and there are circumstances under which the kinetics of morphologically selective domain nucleation and growth determine the overall nanostructure of the composite. To study the mechanism of morphological seeding in block-copolymer nanocomposites, we have combined cylinder phases of polystyrene-block-polyisoprene diblock (as a solution in dibutylphthalate) and poly(styrene-block-isoprene-block-styrene) triblock (as a blend with homopolystyrene) copolymers with gold nanorods of different diameters and surface treatments. Polarized optical microscopy and transmission electron microscopy on these composites demonstrate that the nanorods selectively nucleate coaxial domains of copolymer cylinders (i.e., domains of cylinders aligned along the same axis as the nanorod). These single nucleation events occur regardless of nanorod diameter and surface character, and determine the order of most of the surrounding polymer. Mesoscale modeling of the nucleation process, performed with nanorods of different diameters and with different polymer-surface interactions, illustrates the mechanism by which copolymer-dispersed nanorods with different sizes and surface chemistry can template the organization of cylindrical copolymer domains.
- Block copolymers