European Polymer Journal, 2019, vol 115pp. 107-114
Photo-induced thiol-ene crosslinking of allyl-functionalized cellulose nanocrystal (CNC)/polymer nanocomposites allows access to films that mimic the water-enhanced mechanical gradient characteristics of the squid beak. These films are prepared by mixing the functionalized CNCs and polymer in a solvent before solution casting and drying. The photocrosslinking agents are then imbibed into the film before UV exposure. Reported herein are studies aimed at better understanding the effect of the film preparation procedure, film thickness and the conditions under which the UV treatment is carried out. It was found that when the film is heated at a temperature higher than its glass transition temperature (Tg) during the UV irradiation step there is a greater enhancement in the mechanical properties of the films, presumably on account of more efficient crosslinking between the CNC fillers. Moreover, composite films that were compression molded (at 90?°C) before the imbibing step displayed lower mechanical properties compared to the as-cast films, which is attributed to phase separation of the CNC fillers and polymer matrix during this additional processing step. Finally, the film thickness was also found to be a critical factor that affects the degree of crosslinking. For example, thinner films (50?µm) displayed a higher wet modulus ca. 130?MPa compared to ca. 80?MPa for the thicker films (150?µm). Understanding the processing conditions allows access to a larger range of mechanical properties which is important for the design of new bio-inspired mechanical gradient nanocomposites.