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Structure and Properties of Aqueous Methylcellulose Gels by Small-Angle Neutron Scattering

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journal contribution
posted on 08.10.2012, 00:00 by Tirtha Chatterjee, Alan I. Nakatani, Roland Adden, Meinolf Brackhagen, David Redwine, Hongwei Shen, Yongfu Li, Tricia Wilson, Robert L. Sammler
Cold, semidilute, aqueous solutions of methylcellulose (MC) are known to undergo thermoreversible gelation when warmed. This study focuses on two MC materials with much different gelation performance (gel temperature and hot gel modulus) even though they have similar metrics of their coarse-grained chemical structure (degree-of-methylether substitution and molecular weight distribution). Small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) experiments were conducted to probe the structure of the aqueous MC materials at pre- and postgel temperatures. One material (MC1, higher gel temperature) exhibited a single almost temperature-insensitive gel characteristic length scale (ζc = 1090 ± 50 Å) at postgelation temperatures. This length scale is thought to be the gel blob size between network junctions. It also coincides with the length scale between entanglement sites measured with rheology studies at pregel temperatures. The other material (MC2, lower gel temperature) exhibited two distinct length scales at all temperatures. The larger length scale decreased as temperature increased. Its value (ζc1 = 1046 ± 19 Å) at the lowest pregel temperature was indistinguishable from that measured for MC1, and reached a limiting value (ζc1 = 450 ± 19 Å) at high temperature. The smaller length scale (ζc2 = 120 to 240 Å) increased slightly as temperature increased, but remained on the order of the chain persistence length (130 Å) measured at pregel temperatures. The smaller blob size (ζc1) of MC2 suggests a higher bond energy or a stiffer connectivity between network junctions. Moreover, the number density of these blobs, at the same reduced temperature with respect to the gel temperature, is orders of magnitude higher for the MC2 gels. Presumably, the smaller gel length scale and higher number density lead to higher hot gel modulus for the low gel temperature material.