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Using Liquid Crystals to Probe the Organization of Helical Polypeptide Brushes Induced by Solvent Pretreatment

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journal contribution
posted on 30.08.2021, 07:29 by Michael Tsuei, Hai Tran, Sangchul Roh, Christopher K. Ober, Nicholas L. Abbott
Grafted polymer brushes form the basis of a versatile class of surfaces with properties that can be tailored via choice of the chemical functional groups or architecture of the grafted polymers. Here, we explore how treatment by solvents can program the organization of homopolymer brushes comprising helical poly­(γ-benzyl-l-glutamate) (PBLG) and how the orientational behavior of liquid crystals (LCs) contacted with the brushes can provide fresh insights into brush organization. We treated PBLG brushes with either good (chloroform) or poor (acetone) solvents to form collapsed or teepee-like grafted polymer organizations, respectively. When supported on PBLG brushes with thicknesses [determined by atomic force microscopy (AFM)] of 50 nm, we found that collapsed and teepee-like brushes induced planar (parallel to surface) and homeotropic (perpendicular to surface) orientations of nematic LCs, respectively. By preparing solvent-pretreated brushes with a range of thicknesses (12–140 nm), and by combining insights based on AFM, Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy and LCs, we found that a continuous change in tilt of the LC is accompanied by a continuous change in tilt of the PBLG chains, as influenced by the teepee-like organization. The role of PBLG chain orientation in dictating the LC orientation was confirmed by additional experiments in which PBLG brushes were thermally denatured. Finally, when using mixed solvents (mixtures of chloroform and acetone) to manipulate the PBLG brush organization, we observed LCs to exhibit patterned orientations on the micrometer scale, consistent with patterned orientations of the PBLG chains imprinted by droplets formed during the mixed solvent drying process. Overall, these results expand our understanding of the range of PBLG brush organizations that can be induced by solvent pretreatment and demonstrate the utility of LCs for imaging PBLG chain orientation within brushes.