Photoactive composite films prepared from mixtures of polystyrene microgel dispersions and poly(3-hexylthiophene) solutions†
Whilst polystyrene microgels belong to the oldest family of microgel particles, their behaviours when deposited onto substrates or prepared as composites have received little attention. Because polystyrene microgels are solvent-swellable, and inherently colloidally stable, they are well suited to form composites with conjugated polymers. Here, we investigate the morphology and light absorption properties of spin coated composite films prepared from mixed dispersions of polystyrene microgels and poly(3-hexylthiophene) (P3HT) for the first time. We compare the morphologies of the composite films to spin coated microgel films. The films were studied using optical microscopy, SEM, AFM, wide-angle X-ray diffraction and UV-visible spectroscopy. The films contained flattened microgel particles with an aspect ratio of ∼10. Microgel islands containing hexagonally close packed particles were evident for both the pure microgel and microgel/P3HT composite films. The latter were electrically conducting. The composite film morphology was dependent on the microgel and P3HT concentration used for film preparation and a morphology phase diagram was constructed. The P3HT phase acted as an electrically conducting cement and increased the robustness of the films to solvent washing. The composite films were photoactive due to the P3HT component. The absorbance for the films was tuneable and increased linearly with both microgel and P3HT concentration. The results of the study should apply to other organic swellable microgel/conjugated polymer combinations and may lead to new colloidal composites for future optoelectronic applications.