Molecular dynamics and crystallization in polymers based on ethylene glycol methacrylates (EGMAs) with melt memory characteristics: from linear oligomers to comb-like polymers†
In this article we present results on the glass transition, crystallization and molecular dynamics in relatively novel oligomers, oligo-ethylene glycol methacrylate (OEGMA), with short and long chains, as well as in the corresponding nanostructured comb-like polymers (POEGMA, short and long), the latter being prepared via the RAFT polymerization process. For the investigation we employed conventional and temperature modulated differential scanning calorimetry in combination with high resolving power dielectric spectroscopy techniques, broadband dielectric relaxation spectroscopy (BDS) and thermally stimulated depolarization currents (TSDC). Under ambient conditions short OEGMA (475 g mol−1, ∼4 nm in length) exhibits a remarkable low glass transition temperature, Tg, of −91 °C, crystallization temperature Tc = −24 °C and a significant crystalline fraction, CF, of ∼30%. When doubling the number of monomers (OEGMA-long, 950 g mol−1, chain length ∼8 nm) the Tg increases by about 20 K and CF increases to ∼53%, whereas, the Tc migrates to a room-like temperature of 19 °C. Upon formation of comb-like POEGMA structures the grafted OEGMA short chains, strikingly, are not able to crystallize, while in POEGMA-long the crystallization behaviour changes significantly as compared to OEGMA. Our results indicate that in the comb-like architecture the chain diffusion of the amorphous fractions is also strongly affected. The semicrystalline systems exhibit significant melt memory effects, this being stronger in the comb-like architecture. It is shown that these effects are related to the inter- and intra-chain interactions of the crystallizable chains. The dielectric techniques allowed the molecular dynamics mapping of these new systems from the linear oligomers to POEGMAs for the first time. BDS and TSDC detected various dynamics processes, in particular, the local polymer dynamics (γ process) to be sensitive to the Tg, local dynamics triggered in the hydrophilic chain segments by water traces (β), as well as the segmental dynamics (α) related to glass transition. Interestingly, both the short and long linear OEGMAs exhibit an additional relaxation process that resembles the Normal-Mode process appearing in polyethers. In the corresponding POEGMAs this process could not be resolved, this being an effect of the one-side grafted chain on the comb backbone. The revealed variations in molecular mobility and crystallization behavior suggest the potentially manipulable diffusion of small molecules throughout the polymer volume, via both the molecular architecture as well as the thermal treatment. This ability is extremely useful for these novel materials, envisaging their future applications in biomedicine (drug encapsulation).