Thermally switchable liquid crystals based on cellulose nanocrystals with patchy polymer grafts
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A thermally “switchable” liquid-crystalline (LC) phase is observed in aqueous suspensions of cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs) featuring patchy grafts of the thermoresponsive polymer poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAM). “Patchy” polymer decoration of the CNCs is achieved by preferential attachment of an atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP) initiator to the ends of the rods and subsequent surface-initiated ATRP. The patchy PNIPAM-grafted CNCs display a higher colloidal stability above the lower critical solution temperature (LCST) of PNIPAM than CNCs decorated with PNIPAM in a brush-like manner. A 10 wt% suspension of the “patchy” PNIPAM-modified CNCs displays birefringence at room temperature, indicating the presence of an LC phase. When heated above the LCST of PNIPAM, the birefringence disappears, indicating the transition to an isotropic phase. This switching is reversible and appears to be driven by the collapse of the PNIPAM chains above the LCST, causing a reduction of the rods' packing density and an increase in translational and rotational freedom. Suspensions of the “brush” PNIPAM-modified CNCs display a different behavior. Heating above the LCST causes phase separation, likely because the chain collapse renders the particles more hydrophobic. The thermal switching observed for the “patchy” PNIPAM-modified CNCs is unprecedented and possibly useful for sensing and smart packaging applications.
CitationRisteen, B. [et al.]. Thermally switchable liquid crystals based on cellulose nanocrystals with patchy polymer grafts. "Small", Novembre 2018, vol. 14, núm. 46, p. 1802060/1-1802060/10.