Controlling nanostructure and mechanical properties in triblock copolymer/monomer blends via reaction-induced phase transitions†
Thermoplastic elastomers based on ABA triblock copolymers are typically limited in modulus and strength due to crack propagation within the brittle regions when the hard end-block composition favors morphologies that exhibit connected domains. Increasing the threshold end-block composition to achieve enhanced mechanical performance is possible by increasing the number of junctions or bridging points per chain, but these copolymer characteristics also tend to increase the complexity of the synthesis. Here, we report an in situ polymerization method to successfully increase the number of effective junctions per chain through grafting of poly(styrene) (PS) to a commercial thermoplastic elastomer, poly(styrene)–poly(butadiene)–poly(styrene) (SBS). The strategy described here transforms a linear SBS triblock copolymer–styrene mixture into a linear-comb-linear architecture in which poly(styrene) (PS) grafts from the mid-poly(butadiene) (PBD) block during the polymerization of styrene. Through systematic variation in the initial SBS/styrene content, nanostructural transitions from disordered spheres to lamellar through reaction-induced phase transitions (RIPT) were identified as the styrene content increased. Surprisingly, maximum mechanical performance (Young's modulus, tensile strength, and elongation at break) was obtained with samples exhibiting lamellar nanostructures, corresponding to overall PS contents of 61–77 wt% PS (including the original PS in SBS). The PS grafting from the PBD block increases the modulus and the strength of the thermoplastic elastomer while preventing brittle fracture due to the greater number of junctions afforded by the PS grafts. The work presented here demonstrates the use of RIPT to transform standard SBS materials into polymer systems with enhanced mechanical properties.
- This article is part of the themed collection: 2021 Soft Matter Emerging Investigators