, Volume 108, Issue 3, pp 1067-1078
Date: 02 Dec 2011

Thermal transitions and dynamics in nanocomposite hydrogels

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Abstract

Hydrogels based on nanocomposites of statistical poly(hydroxyethyl acrylate-co-ethyl acrylate) and silica, prepared by simultaneous copolymerization and generation of silica nanoparticles by sol–gel process at various copolymer compositions and silica contents, characterized by a fine dispersion of filler, were investigated with respect to glass transition and polymer dynamics by dielectric techniques. These include thermally stimulated depolarization currents and dielectric relaxation spectroscopy, covering together broad ranges of frequency and temperature. In addition, equilibrium water sorption isotherms were recorded at room temperature (25 °C). Special attention was paid to the investigation of effects of silica on glass transition, polymer dynamics (secondary γ and β sw relaxations and segmental α relaxation), and electrical conductivity in the dry systems (xerogels) and in the hydrogels at various levels of relative humidity/water content. An overall reduction of molecular mobility is observed in the nanocomposite xerogels, in particular at high silica contents. Analysis of the results and comparison with previous work on similar systems enable to discuss this reduction of molecular mobility in terms of constraints to polymeric motion imposed by interfacial polymer–filler interactions and by the formation of a continuous silica network interpenetrated with the polymer network at filler contents higher than about 15 wt%.