Well-defined poly(lauryl methacrylate-benzyl methacrylate) (PLMA-PBzMA) diblock copolymer nanoparticles are prepared in n-heptane at 90 °C via reversible addition–fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) polymerization. Under these conditions, the PLMA macromolecular chain transfer agent (macro-CTA) is soluble in n-heptane, whereas the growing PBzMA block quickly becomes insoluble. Thus this dispersion polymerization formulation leads to polymerization-induced self-assembly (PISA). Using a relatively long PLMA macro-CTA with a mean degree of polymerization (DP) of 37 or higher leads to the formation of well-defined spherical nanoparticles of 41 to 139 nm diameter, depending on the DP targeted for the PBzMA block. In contrast, TEM studies confirm that using a relatively short PLMA macro-CTA (DP = 17) enables both worm-like and vesicular morphologies to be produced, in addition to the spherical phase. A detailed phase diagram has been elucidated for this more asymmetric diblock copolymer formulation, which ensures that each pure phase can be targeted reproducibly. 1H NMR spectroscopy confirmed that high BzMA monomer conversions (>97%) were achieved within 5 h, while GPC studies indicated that reasonably good blocking efficiencies and relatively low diblock copolymer polydispersities (Mw/Mn < 1.30) were obtained in most cases. Compared to prior literature reports, this all-methacrylic PISA formulation is particularly novel because: (i) it is the first time that higher order morphologies (e.g. worms and vesicles) have been accessed in non-polar solvents and (ii) such diblock copolymer nano-objects are expected to have potential boundary lubrication applications for engine oils.
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