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Changes in surface free energy and surface conductivity of carbon nanotubes/polyimide nanocomposite films induced by UV irradiation

Baode Zhang, Marialaura Clausi, Barbara Heck, Susanna Laurenzi, Gabriella Santonicola, Janis Kleperis, Andris Antuzevičs, Guenter Reiter, Andrey Aleshin, Anatoly Lobach. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 13 (2021) 24218–24227

Changes in surface energy and electrical conductivity of polyimide (PI)-based nanocomposite films filled with carbon nanotubes (CNTs) induced by UV exposure are gaining considerable interest in microelectronic, aeronautical, and aerospace applications. However, the underlying mechanism of PI photochemistry and oxidation reactions induced by UV irradiation upon the surface in the presence of CNTs is still not clear. Here, we probed the interplay between CNTs and PIs under UV exposure in the surface properties of CNT/PI nanocomposite films. Changes in contact angles and surface electrical conductivity at the surface of CNT/PI nanocomposite films after UV exposure were measured. The unpaired electron intensity of free radicals generated by UV exposure was monitored by electron paramagnetic resonance. Our study indicates that the covalent interactions between CNTs and radicals generated by UV irradiation on the PI surfaces tailor the surface energy and surface conductivity through anchoring radicals on CNTs. Surprisingly, adding CNTs into PI films exposed to UV leads to antagonistic contributions of dispersion and polar components to the surface energy. The surface electrical conductivity of the CNT/PI nanocomposite films has been improved due to an enhanced hopping behavior with dense π-conjugated CNT sites. To explain the observed changes in surface energy and surface conductivity of CNT/PI nanocomposite films induced by UV exposure, a qualitative model was put forward describing the covalent interactions between UV-induced PI free radicals and CNTs, which govern the chemical nature of surface components. This study is helpful for characterizing and optimizing nanocomposite surface properties by tuning the covalent interactions between components at the nanoscale.

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