Swelling, dewetting and breakup in thin polymer films for cultural heritage
The removal of ultrathin amorphous polymer films in contact with nonsolvent/solvent binary mixtures is addressed by means of neutron reflectometry and atomic force microscopy. The high resolution of neutron scattering makes it possible to resolve the distribution profiles of heavy water and benzyl alcohol inside Laropal®A81, often employed as a protective varnish layer for Culture Heritage in restoration of easel paintings. The swelling kinetics and distribution profiles were recorded as a function of time and increasing benzyl alcohol concentration in water. The varnish film swells by penetration of the good solvent. At higher concentrations water-filled cavities appear inside the varnish and grow with time. Contrary to homogeneous dissolution dewetting is observed at late stages of exposure to the liquid which leads to the Breakup of the film. The high resolution measurements are compared to bulk behaviour characterized by the ternary phase diagram and the Flory–Huggins interaction parameters are calculated and used to predict the swelling and solvent partition in the films. Distinct differences of the thin film to bulk behaviour are found. The expectations made previously for the behaviour of solvent/non-solvent mixtures on the removal of thin layers in the restoration of easel paintings should be revised in view of surface interactions.