The interplay of thermodynamics and kinetics: imparting hierarchical control over film formation of self-stratified blends†
Spin casting has become an attractive method to fabricate polymer thin films found in organic electronic devices such as field-effect transistors, and light emitting diodes. Many studies have shown that altering spin casting parameters can improve device performance, which has been directly correlated to the degree of polymer alignment, crystallinity, and morphology of the thin film. To provide a thorough understanding of the balance of thermodynamic and kinetic factors that influence the stratification of polymer blend thin films, we monitor stratified polymer blend thin films developed from poly(3-hexylthiophene-2,5-diyl) and poly(methyl methacrylate) blends at controlled loading ratios, relative molecular weights, and casting speed. The structures of these thin films were characterized via neutron reflectivity, and the results show that at the fastest casting speed, polymer–polymer interactions and surface energy of the polymers in the blend dictate the final film structure, and at the slowest casting speed, there is less control over the film layering due to the polymer–polymer interactions, surface energy, and entropy simultaneously driving stratification. As well, the relative solubility limits of the polymers in the pre-deposition solution play a role in the stratification process at the slowest casting speed. These results broaden the current understanding of the relationship between spin casting conditions and vertical phase separation in polymer blend thin films and provide a foundation for improved rational design of polymer thin film fabrication processes to attain targeted stratification, and thus performance.