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Heterogeneous Diffusion in Thin Polymer Films As Observed by High-Temperature Single-Molecule Fluorescence Microscopy

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journal contribution
posted on 11.01.2012, 00:00 by Bente M. I. Flier, Moritz C. Baier, Johannes Huber, Klaus Müllen, Stefan Mecking, Andreas Zumbusch, Dominik Wöll
Single-molecule fluorescence microscopy was used to investigate the dynamics of perylene diimide (PDI) molecules in thin supported polystyrene (PS) films at temperatures up to 135 °C. Such high temperatures, so far unreached in single-molecule spectroscopy studies, were achieved using a custom-built setup which allows for restricting the heated mass to a minimum. This enables temperature-dependent single-molecule fluorescence studies of structural dynamics in the temperature range most relevant to the processing and to applications of thermoplastic materials. In order to ensure that polymer chains were relaxed, a molecular weight of 3000 g/mol, clearly below the entanglement length of PS, was chosen. We found significant heterogeneities in the motion of single PDI probe molecules near Tg. An analysis of the track radius of the recorded single-probe molecule tracks allowed for a distinction between mobile and immobile molecules. Up to the glass transition temperature in bulk, Tg,bulk, probe molecules were immobile; at temperatures higher than Tg,bulk + 40 K, all probe molecules were mobile. In the range between 0 and 40 K above Tg,bulk the fraction of mobile probe molecules strongly depends on film thickness. In 30-nm thin films mobility is observed at lower temperatures than in thick films. The fractions of mobile probe molecules were compared and rationalized using Monte Carlo random walk simulations. Results of these simulations indicate that the observed heterogeneities can be explained by a model which assumes a Tg profile and an increased probability of probe molecules remaining at the surface, both effects caused by a density profile with decreasing polymer density at the polymer–air interface.