Unique aqueous self-assembly behavior of a thermoresponsive diblock copolymer†
It is well-recognized that block copolymer self-assembly in solution typically produces spheres, worms or vesicles, with the relative volume fraction of each block dictating the copolymer morphology. Stimulus-responsive diblock copolymers that can undergo either sphere/worm or vesicle/worm transitions are also well-documented. Herein we report a new amphiphilic diblock copolymer that can form spheres, worms, vesicles or lamellae in aqueous solution. Such self-assembly behavior is unprecedented for a single diblock copolymer of fixed composition yet is achieved simply by raising the solution temperature from 1 °C (spheres) to 25 °C (worms) to 50 °C (vesicles) to 70 °C (lamellae). Heating increases the degree of hydration (and hence the effective volume fraction) of the core-forming block, with this parameter being solely responsible for driving the sphere-to-worm, worm-to-vesicle and vesicle-to-lamellae transitions. The first two transitions exhibit excellent reversibility but the vesicle-to-lamellae transition exhibits hysteresis on cooling. This new thermoresponsive diblock copolymer provides a useful model for studying such morphological transitions and is likely to be of significant interest for theoretical studies.