Journal article

Cellulose Nanocrystals with Tethered Polymer Chains: Chemically Patchy versus Uniform Decoration

The site-specific surface modification of colloidal substrates, yielding "patchy" nanoparticles, is a rapidly expanding area of research as a result of the new complex structural hierarchies that are becoming accessible to chemists and materials scientists through colloidal self-assembly. The inherent directionality of cellulose chains, which feature a nonreducing and a reducing end, within individual cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) renders them an interesting experimental platform for the synthesis of asymmetric nanorods with end-tethered polymer chains. Here, we present water-tolerant reaction pathways toward patchy and uniformly modified CNC hybrids based on atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP) and initiators that were linked to the CNCs with carbodiimide-mediated coupling and Fischer esterification, respectively. Various monomers, including N-isopropylacrylamide (NIPAM), [2-(methacryloyloxy)ethyl]trimethylammonium chloride (METAC), and sodium 4-vinylbenzenesulfonate (4-SS), were polymerized from both types of initiator-modified CNCs, yielding chemically patchy and uniform CNC hybrids, via surface-initiated ATRP (SI-ATRP). Interestingly, the stereochemistry of tethered PNIPAM was affected by the precise location of ATRP initiating sites, as evidenced by H-1 NMR and circular dichroism (CD) spectroscopy. This effect may be related to the inherent right-handed chirality of CNCs. CNC/PMETAC hybrids were labeled with gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) in order to visualize the precise location of polymer tethers via cryo-electron microscopy. In some instances, the AuNPs were indeed concentrated at the end groups of the patchy CNC hybrids.


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