Surface enrichment dictates block copolymer orientation


Bae, S.; Noack, M.M.; Yager, K.G. "Surface enrichment dictates block copolymer orientation" Nanoscale 2023, 15 6901–6912.
doi: 10.1039/D3NR00095H


We use coarse-grained molecular dynamics to investigate orientational ordering in block copolymer thin films. Using autonomous exploration methods, based on Gaussian process modeling, we efficiently reconstruct the ordering landscape.


Orientation of block copolymer (BCP) morphology in thin films is critical to applications as nanostructured coatings. Despite being well-studied, the ability to control BCP orientation across all possible block constituents remains challenging. Here, we deploy coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulations to study diblock copolymer ordering in thin films, focusing on chain makeup, substrate surface energy, and surface tension disparity between the two constituent blocks. We explore the multi-dimensional parameter space of ordering using a machine-learning approach, where an autonomous loop using a Gaussian process (GP) control algorithm iteratively selects high-value simulations to compute. The GP kernel was engineered to capture known symmetries. The trained GP model serves as both a complete map of system response, and a robust means of extracting material knowledge. We demonstrate that the vertical orientation of BCP phases depends on several counter-balancing energetic contributions, including entropic and enthalpic material enrichment at interfaces, distortion of morphological objects through the film depth, and of course interfacial energies. BCP lamellae are found more resistant to these effects, and thus more robustly form vertical orientations across a broad range of conditions; while BCP cylinders are found to be highly sensitive to surface tension disparity.