Electric Field Alignment of a Block Copolymer Nanopattern: Direct Observation of the Microscopic Mechanism

Using quasi-in-situ scanning force microscopy we study the details of nanopattern alignment in ABC terblock copolymer thin films in the presence of an in-plane electric field. Because of the surface interactions and electric field the lamellae are oriented both perpendicular to the plane of the film and parallel to the electric field. We identified two distinct defect types which govern the orientation mechanism. Ring-like (tori) and open-end defects dominate at the early stage of the orientation process, while mainly classic topological defects (disclinations and dislocations) are involved in long-range ordering at the late stages. Comparison of the time evolution of the defect density with the evolution of the orientational order parameter suggests that tori-defects are essential for the effective reorientation. Further, the quasi-in-situ SFM imaging allowed us to elucidate the influence of the electric field strength on the propagation velocity of the topological defects.