Lewis Adduct-Induced Phase Transitions in Polymer/Solvent Mixtures

Tylene Hilaire, Yifan Xu, Wenwen Mei, Robert A. Riggleman, Robert Hickey. ACS Polymers Au (2021)


Functionalization-induced phase transitions in polymer systems in which a postpolymerization reaction drives polymers to organize into colloidal aggregates are a versatile method to create nanoscale structures with applications related to biomedicine and nanoreactors. Current functionalization methods to stimulate polymer self-assembly are based on covalent bond formation. Therefore, there is a need to explore alternative reactions that result in noncovalent bond formation. Here, we demonstrate that when the Lewis acid, tris(pentafluorophenyl) borane (BCF), is added to a solution containing poly(4-diphenylphosphino styrene) (PDPPS), the system will either macrophase-separate or form micelles if PDPPS is a homopolymer or a block in a copolymer, respectively. The Lewis adduct-induced phase transition is hypothesized to result from the favorable interaction between the PDPPS and BCF, which results in a negative interaction parameter (χ). A modified Flory–Huggins model was used to determine the predicted phase behavior for a ternary system composed of a polymer, a solvent, and a small molecule. The model indicates that there is a demixing region (i.e., macrophase separation) when the polymer and small molecule have favorable interactions (e.g., χ < 0) and that the phase separation region coincides well with the experimentally determined two-phase region for mixtures containing PDPPS, BCF, and toluene. The work presented here highlights that Lewis adduct-induced phase separation is a new approach to functionalization-induced self-assembly (FISA) and that ternary mixtures will undergo phase separation if two of the components exhibit a sufficiently negative χ.