Macromolecules, 2016, vol 49, 14, pp. 5160-5171
A series of model sterically stabilized diblock copolymer nanoparticles has been designed to aid the development of analytical protocols in order to determine two key parameters: the effective particle density and the steric stabilizer layer thickness. The former parameter is essential for high resolution particle size analysis based on analytical (ultra)centrifugation techniques (e.g., disk centrifuge photosedimentometry, DCP), whereas the latter parameter is of fundamental importance in determining the effectiveness of steric stabilization as a colloid stability mechanism. The diblock copolymer nanoparticles were prepared via polymerization-induced self-assembly (PISA) using RAFT aqueous emulsion polymerization: this approach affords relatively narrow particle size distributions and enables the mean particle diameter and the stabilizer layer thickness to be adjusted independently via systematic variation of the mean degree of polymerization of the hydrophobic and hydrophilic blocks, respectively. The hydrophobic core-forming block was poly(2,2,2-trifluoroethyl methacrylate) [PTFEMA], which was selected for its relatively high density. The hydrophilic stabilizer block was poly(glycerol monomethacrylate) [PGMA], which is a well-known non-ionic polymer that remains water-soluble over a wide range of temperatures. Four series of PGMAx–PTFEMAy nanoparticles were prepared (x = 28, 43, 63, and 98, y = 100–1400) and characterized via transmission electron microscopy (TEM), dynamic light scattering (DLS), and small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS). It was found that the degree of polymerization of both the PGMA stabilizer and core-forming PTFEMA had a strong influence on the mean particle diameter, which ranged from 20 to 250 nm. Furthermore, SAXS was used to determine radii of gyration of 1.46 to 2.69 nm for the solvated PGMA stabilizer blocks. Thus, the mean effective density of these sterically stabilized particles was calculated and determined to lie between 1.19 g cm–3 for the smaller particles and 1.41 g cm–3 for the larger particles; these values are significantly lower than the solid-state density of PTFEMA (1.47 g cm–3). Since analytical centrifugation requires the density difference between the particles and the aqueous phase, determining the effective particle density is clearly vital for obtaining reliable particle size distributions. Furthermore, selected DCP data were recalculated by taking into account the inherent density distribution superimposed on the particle size distribution. Consequently, the true particle size distributions were found to be somewhat narrower than those calculated using an erroneous single density value, with smaller particles being particularly sensitive to this artifact.