Film Thickness and Composition Effects in Symmetric Ternary Block Copolymer/Homopolymer Blend Films: Domain Spacing and Orientation


Toth, K.; Bae, S.; Osuji, C.O.; Yager, K.G.; Doerk, G.S. "Film Thickness and Composition Effects in Symmetric Ternary Block Copolymer/Homopolymer Blend Films: Domain Spacing and Orientation" Macromolecules 2021, 54 7970–7986.
doi: 10.1021/acs.macromol.1c01032


Using gradient libraries, we study blend films of block copolymers and homopolymers.


We report thickness and homopolymer molar mass dependencies in thin film blends of a compositionally symmetric 75 kg/mol lamellar polystyrene-block-poly(methyl methacrylate) diblock copolymer (PS-b-PMMA) with near-equal volume fractions of PS and PMMA homopolymers on “neutral” surfaces that promote a vertical domain orientation. PS and PMMA homopolymers with equal molar masses of 1, 3, and 22 kg/mol are blended in a 1:1 mass ratio. To efficiently explore this parameter space, we prepared combinatorial samples with gradient homopolymer concentrations using electrospray deposition (ESD) and gradient film thicknesses using flow coating; these samples were subsequently characterized by grazing-incidence small-angle X-ray scattering and scanning electron microscopy, respectively. Our results demonstrate that the added homopolymers increase or reduce domain spacings with respect to the neat (unblended) block copolymer depending on their molar masses, in line with previous reports; a simple heuristic to estimate the domain scaling in ternary blends based on the homopolymer molar mass agrees well with data for the thinnest blend films studied here. More surprisingly, we observe that the measured domain spacing in blends also depends on film thickness, with thicker films exhibiting larger domain spacings than thinner films at the same homopolymer concentration. Furthermore, thickness gradients at fixed homopolymer concentrations reveal a change in lamellae orientation from vertical to horizontal as film thickness is increased beyond the nominal lamellar domain spacing. Coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulations indicate that this change in orientation is induced by homopolymer segregation to film surfaces. Tying these effects together, we hypothesize that the observed dependence of domain spacing on film thickness is a consequence of changes in the vertical homopolymer composition profile in thicker films during lamellae reorientation and the conformational asymmetry between PMMA and PS segments.