Journal of Physical Chemistry B, Vol.116, No.39, 12038-12047, 2012
High Strength of Physical Hydrogels Based on Poly(acrylic acid)-g-poly(ethylene glycol) Methyl Ether: Role of Chain Architecture on Hydrogel Properties
This investigation was to study the connections between polymer branch architecture of physical hydrogels and their properties. The bottle-brush-like polymer chains of poly(acrylic acid)-g-poly(ethylene glycol) methyl ether (PAA-g-mPEG) with PAA as backbones and mPEG as branch architecture were synthesized and in situ grafted from silica nanoparticles (SNs) to construct hydrogels cross-linked networks in aqueous solutions. The structural variables to be discussed included molecular weight and molar ratio of branch chains, and new aspects of the formation mechanism of physical hydrogels with branch structure in the absence of organic cross-links were present. The results indicated that the differences of polymer chain architecture could be distinguished via their different interactions that are present by gelation process and mature gel properties, such as gel strength and swelling ratio. The gelation occurred at the critical polymer concentration and molecular weight, respectively, and the inorganic/organic (SNs/PAA-g-mPEG) nanoparticles began to entangle and construct the cross-linking networks afterward. The gel-to-sol transition temperature (T-g.s) and radii of SNs that were encapsulated by polymer chains as a function of time for chains' disentanglement were monitored according to the observation of the dissolution process, and the molecular weight between two consecutive entanglements (M-e) was calculated thereafter. This study showed that the introduction of branch chain onto the linear backbone significantly promoted the chain interactions and increased entanglement density, which contributed to the hydrogels network integrity and rigidity, thus illustrating greater elongation at break and tensile strength than the hydrogels formulated with linear polymer chains.