Poly(glycidyl ether)-Based Monolayers on Gold Surfaces: Control of Grafting Density and Chain Conformation by Grafting Procedure, Surface Anchor, and Molecular Weight
Silke Heinen, Marie Weinhart – 2017
For a meaningful correlation of surface coatings with their respective biological response reproducible coating procedures, well-defined surface coatings, and thorough surface characterization with respect to layer thickness and grafting density are indispensable. The same applies to polymeric monolayer coatings which are intended to be used for, e.g., fundamental studies on the volume phase transition of surface end-tethered thermoresponsive polymer chains. Planar gold surfaces are frequently used as model substrates, since they allow a variety of straightforward surface characterization methods. Herein we present reproducible grafting-to procedures performed with thermoresponsive poly(glycidyl ether) copolymers composed of glycidyl methyl ether (GME) and ethyl glycidyl ether (EGE). The copolymers feature different molecular weights (2 kDa, 9 kDa, 24 kDa) and are equipped with varying sulfur-containing anchor groups in order to achieve adjustable grafting densities on gold surfaces and hence control the tethered polymers’ chain conformation. We determined “wet” and “dry” thicknesses of these coatings by QCM-D and ellipsometry measurements and deduced anchor distances and degrees of chain overlap of the polymer chains assembled on gold. Grafting under cloud point conditions allowed for higher degrees of chain overlap compared to grafting from a good solvent like ethanol, independent of the used sulfur-containing anchor group for polymers with low (2 kDa) and medium (9 kDa) molecular weights. By contrast, the achieved grafting densities and thus chain overlaps of surface-tethered polymers with high (24 kDa) molecular weights were identical for both grafting methods. Monolayers prepared from an ethanolic solution of poly(glycidyl ether)s equipped with sterically demanding disulfide-containing anchors revealed the lowest degrees of chain overlap. The ratio of the radius of gyration to the anchor distance (2 Rg/l) of the latter coating was found to be lower than 1.4, indicating that the assembly was rather in the mushroom-like than in the brush regime. Polymer chains with thiol-containing anchors of different alkyl chain lengths (C11SH vs C4SH) formed assemblies with comparable degrees of chain overlap with 2 Rg/l values above 1.4 and are thus in the brush regime. Molecular weights influenced the achievable degree of chain overlap on the surface. Coatings prepared with the medium molecular weight polymer (9 kDa) resulted in the highest chain packing density. Control of grafting density and thus chain overlap in different regimes (brush vs mushroom) on planar gold substrates are attainable for monolayer coatings with poly(GME-ran-EGE) by adjusting the polymer’s molecular weight and anchor group as well as the conditions for the grafting-to procedure.