Hierarchical structure in poly(N-vinyl carbazole)/Fe3O4 nanocomposites and the relevant magnetic coercivity†
In this study, we report the dependence of the nanoparticle dispersion on the zero-conversion initiator efficiency in the nanocomposites formed by poly(N-vinyl carbazole) (PNVK) and acrylic acid-modified iron oxide (AA-Fe3O4) nanoparticles via free radical solution polymerization of the precursor solution, that is, a thorough mixture of 28.5 wt% AA-Fe3O4 nanoparticles and the N-vinyl carbazole (NVK) monomer with the solvent dimethylformamide and azobisisobutyronitrile as an initiator. Here three different types of the dispersion state of AA-Fe3O4 nanoparticles in the PNVK matrix have been distinguished by a combined approach of transmission electron microscopy and small-angle X-ray scattering coupled with real-space models of the nanoparticle assemblies. When the polymerization proceeded with a higher zero-conversion initiator efficiency (f°) by pre-polymerization at 115 °C, the generation of a large amount of free radicals could efficiently induce the dominant surface-initiated polymerization of the NVK monomer with the vinyl groups of tethered acrylic acids; in this case, the constitution of “shorter multiple grafted PNVK chains” threaded AA-Fe3O4 nanoparticles to form particle branches and the branches were joined together from branching points along each branch, thereby forming the network structure. However, once the polymerization was conducted at a lower f° by pre-polymerization at 75 °C, a significant reduction in the generation of free radicals likely greatly reduced the efficiency in the occurrence of surface-initiated polymerization at particle surfaces; nevertheless, the self-polymerization of the NVK monomer could still take place to induce a local demixing between the polymerizing longer PNVK chains and AA-Fe3O4 nanoparticles via the attractive depletion mechanism, thus locally leading to the formation of small aggregates. While if the f° was controlled to be intermediate by polymerization at 100 °C, an optimal balance between the rates of the surface-initiated polymerization and the self-polymerization induced a collective construction built from the network and aggregate structures, exhibiting the structural characteristics of large aggregates. Furthermore, the magnetic coercivity of PNVK/AA-Fe3O4 nanocomposites was found to depend on the dispersion state of the AA-Fe3O4 nanoparticles, presenting a tendency towards enhanced coercivity as the dispersion state changed from large aggregates to small aggregates to network structure.