Structural color from solid-state polymerization-induced phase separation†
Structural colors are produced by wavelength-dependent scattering of light from nanostructures. While living organisms often exploit phase separation to directly assemble structurally colored materials from macromolecules, synthetic structural colors are typically produced in a two-step process involving the sequential synthesis and assembly of building blocks. Phase separation is attractive for its simplicity, but applications are limited due to a lack of robust methods for its control. A central challenge is to arrest phase separation at the desired length scale. Here, we show that solid-state polymerization-induced phase separation can produce stable structures at optical length scales. In this process, a polymeric solid is swollen and softened with a second monomer. During its polymerization, the two polymers become immiscible and phase separate. As free monomer is depleted, the host matrix resolidifies and arrests coarsening. The resulting polymeric composites have a blue or white appearance. We compare these biomimetic nanostructures to those in structurally-colored feather barbs, and demonstrate the flexibility of this approach by producing structural color in filaments and large sheets.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Soft Matter Editor-in-Chief's Choice