Effects of temperature on the association behavior in aqueous solutions of a series of thermosensitive poly(N-isopropylacrylamide)-block-poly(ethylene glycol)-block-poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) triblock copolymers (PNIPAAMm-b-PEGn-b-PNIPAAMm) with the length of the PNIPAAM block fixed (m ≈ 67) and with different lengths of the PEG block (n = 23, 34, 77, and 165) have been studied with the aid of turbidity, dynamic light scattering (DLS), and Monte Carlo simulations. The turbidity results show that the sharp transition to high turbidity values is shifted to higher temperatures when the length of the PEG spacer is increased from 23 to 77, whereas no transition is observed for the longest PEG block. These findings are consistent with the DLS results, which suggest the formation of large association structures at temperatures well above the cloud point. The simulation results indicate that a long PEG-block portion separating the PNIPAAM blocks in the triblock copolymer reduces the tendency of the polymer forming interchain associations at elevated temperatures. Simulation shows that for a long PEG spacer, the copolymer moiety is rather extended even at high temperatures, whereas for copolymers with a short PEG length the thermoresponsive block copolymer undergoes a transition from an extended to a compact conformation.
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