Smart nanogels at the air/water interface: structural studies by neutron reflectivity†
The development of effective transdermal drug delivery systems based on nanosized polymers requires a better understanding of the behaviour of such nanomaterials at interfaces. N-Isopropylacrylamide-based nanogels synthesized with different percentages of N,N′-methylenebisacrylamide as cross-linker, ranging from 10 to 30%, were characterized at physiological temperature at the air/water interface, using neutron reflectivity (NR), with isotopic contrast variation, and surface tension measurements; this allowed us to resolve the adsorbed amount and the volume fraction of nanogels at the interface. A large conformational change for the nanogels results in strong deformations at the interface. As the percentage of cross-linker incorporated in the nanogels becomes higher, more rigid matrices are obtained, although less deformed, and the amount of adsorbed nanogels is increased. The data provide the first experimental evidence of structural changes of nanogels as a function of the degree of cross-linking at the air/water interface.