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UV-Assisted Li+‑Catalyzed Radical Grafting Polymerization of Vinyl Ethers: A New Strategy for Creating Hydrolysis-Resistant and Long-Lived Polymer Brushes as a “Smart” Surface Coating

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journal contribution
posted on 01.04.2021, 10:23 by Qingyu Liao, Dong Chen, Xianhong Zhang, Yuhong Ma, Changwen Zhao, Wantai Yang
A facile synthetic route was developed to prepare a surface-grafted brush layer of poly­(vinyl ethers) (PVEs) directly by a radical mechanism, with the “naked” Li+ acting as a catalyst. Density functional theory calculations suggested that complexation of naked Li+ to VEs significantly reduced the highest unoccupied molecular orbital–lowest unoccupied molecular orbital (HOMO–LUMO) energy gap from 5.08 to 0.68 eV, providing a better prospect for electron transfer. The structure, morphology, and surface properties of grafted polymer layers were characterized using attenuated total reflection Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, Raman spectroscopy, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, atomic force microscopy, and dynamic water contact angle (DCA). Moreover, ellipsometry data indicated that the thickness of the polymer brushes was in the range of 20–60 nm, which corresponds to the grafting densities of 0.65–1.15 chain/nm2, and DCA decreased from 84.4 to 45.3°. Most importantly, no hydrolysis was observed for the modified surface after 30 days of exposure to phosphate-buffered saline solution, 0.1 mol/L NaOH­(eq) and 0.1 mol/L HCl­(eq), demonstrating excellent hydrolysis resistance with long service life. In addition, as a proof of concept, the side hydroxyl groups of grafted PVEs provide active sites for efficient fixation of bioactive molecules, e.g., glycosaminoglycan and serum protein.