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Effect of brush thickness and solvent composition on the friction force response of poly(2-(methacryloyloxy)ethylphosphorylcholine) brushes

Zhang, Zhenyu and Morse, Andrew J. and Armes, S. P. and Lewis, A. L. and Geoghegan, Mark and Leggett, Graham J. (2011) Effect of brush thickness and solvent composition on the friction force response of poly(2-(methacryloyloxy)ethylphosphorylcholine) brushes. Langmuir, 27 (6). pp. 2514-2521. ISSN 0743-7463

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The frictional properties of poly(2-(methacryloyloxy)ethylphosphorylcholine) (PMPC) brushes grown from planar silicon surfaces by atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP) have been characterized using in situ friction force microscopy (FFM). The dry thicknesses of the PMPC brushes ranged from 20 to 421 nm. For brush layers with dry thicknesses greater than ca. 100 nm, the coefficient of friction decreased with increasing film thickness. For shorter brushes, the coefficient of friction varied little with brush thickness. We hypothesize that the amount of bound solvent increases as the brush length increases, causing the osmotic pressure to increase and yielding a reduced tendency for the brush layer to deform under applied load. A comparison of the force−displacement plots acquired for various PMPC brushes under water supports this hypothesis, since a greater repulsive force is measured for thicker brushes. FFM was also used to investigate the well-known co-nonsolvency behavior exhibited by PMPC chains. For a PMPC brush layer of 307 nm dry thickness, the friction force was determined as a function of the volume fraction of alcohol in alcohol/water mixtures. Unlike a previous macroscopic study, a significant increase in the coefficient of friction was observed for ethanol/water mixtures at a volume fraction of 90%. This is attributed to brush collapse due to co-nonsolvency, leading to loss of hydration of the brush chains and hence substantially reduced lubrication. Force measurements normal to the surface indicate much greater hysteresis between approaching and retraction curves under co-nonsolvency conditions. However, no such effect was observed for 2-propanol/water and methanol/water mixtures over a wide range of volume fractions, in agreement with recent ellipsometric studies of PMPC brushes.