Infoscience

Thesis

Low-Stress UV-Curable Hyperbranched Polymer Nanocomposites for High-Precision Devices

The aim of this thesis was to investigate the process-structure-property relationships of UV-curable hyperbranched polymer (HBP)/silica nanocomposites. Special attention was paid to the interplay between photo-conversion, rheological behavior, shrinkage, and stress dynamics. This knowledge was used to maximize the shape fidelity and dimensional stability of imprinted nano-patterns made with these nanocomposites. Two different processing routes, resulting in different nanocomposite morphologies, were compared. The first and more conventional approach was ultrasonic, solvent-assisted mixing with solid silica nanoparticles followed by UV curing, which led to a discrete dispersion of silica particles in the matrix. The second and more novel approach was a dual-cure process combining UV and sol-gel processing with liquid tetraethyl orthosilicate. The sol-gel process, using a low-viscosity organometallic precursor, overcame the potential processing issue of the highly viscous particulate nanocomposites and led to a hybrid material with a homogeneous silica network at nanometer scale. Rheological analysis of silica nanoparticle suspensions up to the concentrated regime in the HBP showed an exponential increase of the viscosity with the particle fraction for well-dispersed discrete particle systems. A liquid-to-solid transition occurred in the 5 to 10 vol% range, which was correlated with an immobilized layer of polymer hydrogen-bonded to the silanol groups on the surface of the particles, as was confirmed by calorimetric analysis. Polymerization kinetics of HBP nanocomposites and hybrids were analyzed by means of photo differential scanning calorimetry using an autocatalytic model. A time-intensity-superposition principle with power-law dependence was established, which invalidated the classic radiation dose equivalence principle. Gelation and modulus build-up were monitored using photo-rheology. The calorimetric and rheological data were combined in the form of time-intensity-transformation diagrams. It was found that gelation was delayed with respect to conversion up to 36% when lower UV intensities were used, which favored reduce polymerization stresses. The dynamics of polymerization shrinkage and internal stress build-up were investigated using photo-hyphenated interferometry and beam-bending methods. The linear shrinkage of the HBP was as low as 4.5%, which was further reduced to 3.3% with the addition of 20 vol% nanoparticles. The residual stress of HBP/SiO2 nanocomposites was below 5.5 MPa. That is well below the level of standard non-reinforced resins, in spite of an increased stiffness. For the sol-gel hybrids with 20 vol% SiO2, stress reduction by 50% with simultaneous stiffness increase by 20% with respect to corresponding particulate composites was demonstrated. The coefficient of thermal expansion was also lowered by 30%. Finally, nanogratings with a period of 360 nm and a step height of 12 nm were fabricated using UV-nanoimprint lithography with a glass or nickel master in a low-pressure (max. 6 bar) and rapid (≈1 min) process. Stable gratings were imprinted in the composite material containing up to 25 vol% of silica nanoparticles, despite the high viscosity of such compositions. Thanks to the exudation of a HBP-rich surface layer, the shape fidelity in terms of period of the replicated patterns was within 98% of the master, with shape distortion increasing with internal stress. The obtained nanogratings were used as a substrate for grated high refractive index TiO2 waveguides and then applied as wavelength-interrogated optical sensors (WIOS). An immunoassay with the polymer WIOS showed the same ultrahigh detection sensitivity as the standard glass-based devices. Therefore, the novel polymer-based sensor should be useful to probe contaminants in liquids with concentrations as low as a few ppb.

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