ACS Nano, 2017, vol 11, 1, pp. 752-759
Polymer nanocomposites (PNCs) are important materials that are widely used in many current technologies and potentially have broader applications in the future due to their excellent property tunability, light weight, and low cost. However, expanding the limits in property enhancement remains a fundamental scientific challenge. Here, we demonstrate that well-dispersed, small (diameter ∼1.8 nm) nanoparticles with attractive interactions lead to unexpectedly large and qualitatively different changes in PNC structural dynamics in comparison to conventional nanocomposites based on particles of diameters ∼10–50 nm. At the same time, the zero-shear viscosity at high temperatures remains comparable to that of the neat polymer, thereby retaining good processability and resolving a major challenge in PNC applications. Our results suggest that the nanoparticle mobility and relatively short lifetimes of nanoparticle-polymer associations open qualitatively different horizons in the tunability of macroscopic properties in nanocomposites with a high potential for the development of advanced functional materials.