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Morphologies of Diblock Copolymer Thin Films Before and After Crystallization

G. Reiter, G. Castelein, P. Hoerner, G. Riess, J.-U. Sommer, G. Floudas. Eur. Phys. J. E. 2, 319-334 (2000)


Spin-coated thin films of about 100 nm of low-molecular-weight hydrogenated poly(butadiene-b-ethyleneoxide) (PBh-PEO) diblock copolymers have been crystallized at various constant temperatures. Crystallization has been observed in real time by light microscopy. Detailed structural information was obtained by atomic force microscopy, mainly enabled by the large viscoelastic contrast between amorphous and crystalline regions. The behavior in thin films is compared to the bulk properties of the polymer. Crystallization started from an annealed microphase separated melt where optical microscopy indicated a lamellar orientation parallel to the substrate. A small difference in the length of the crystallizable block produced significantly different crystallization behavior, both in the bulk and in thin films. For thin films of the shortest diblock copolymer (45% PEO content) and for an undercooling larger than about 10 degrees, crystallization created vertically oriented lamellae. These vertical lamellae could be preferentially aligned over several micrometers when crystallization occurred close to a three-phase contact line. Annealing at temperatures closer to the melting point or keeping the sample at room temperature for several months allowed the formation of a lamellar structure parallel to the substrate. A tentative interpretation based on kinetically caused chain folding and relaxation within the crystalline state, with implications on general aspects of polymer crystallization, is presented.

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