Spatial inhomogeneity, interfaces and complex vitrification kinetics in a network forming nanocomposite†
A detailed calorimetric study on an epoxy-based nanocomposite system was performed employing bisphenol A diglycidyl ether (DGEBA) cured with diethylenetriamine (DETA) as the polymer matrix and a taurine-modified MgAL layered double hydroxide (T-LDH) as the nanofiller. The –NH2 group of taurine can react with DGEBA improving the interaction of the polymer with the filler. The combined X-ray scattering and electron microscopy data showed that the nanocomposite has a partially exfoliated morphology. Calorimetric studies were performed using conventional DSC, temperature modulated DSC (TMDSC) and fast scanning calorimetry (FSC) in the temperature modulated approach (TMFSC) to investigate the vitrification and molecular mobility dependent on the filler concentration. First, TMDSC and NMR were used to estimate the amount of the rigid amorphous fraction which consists of immobilized polymer segments at the nanoparticle surface. It was found to be 40 wt% for the highest filler concentration, indicating that the interface dominates the overall macroscopic properties and behavior of the material to a great extent. Second, the relaxation rates of the α-relaxation obtained by TMDSC and TMFSC were compared with the thermal and dielectric relaxation rates measured by static FSC. The investigation revealed that the system shows two distinct α-relaxation processes. Furthermore, two separate vitrification mechanisms were also found for a bulk network-former without geometrical confinement as also confirmed by NMR. This was discussed in terms of the intrinsic spatial heterogeneity on a molecular scale, which becomes more pronounced with increasing nanofiller content.