Macromolecules, Vol.54, No.4, 2022-2028, 2021
Enhanced Free Surface Mobility Facilitates the Release of FreeVolume Holes in Thin-Film Polymer Glasses
The concept of free volume underpins the variations in polymer dynamics. Annihilation of free-volume holes through diffusion to surfaces has been proposed to determine the vitrification of the confined polymers. In this work, we assessed the hole diffusion dynamics in glassy thin poly (ethylene terephthalate) films with various thicknesses using a strategy based on covering the film surface with crystals of different sizes, which allows for changing the hole diffusion efficiency, thus tuning the glass transition temperature of the thin film (T-g(film)). The apparent activation energy for hole diffusion (E-a,(hole)) in the thin films was elucidated by modeling the correlation between T-g(film) and surface coverage of crystals using the free-volume hole diffusion model. Our results demonstrated a trend of linear decrease in E-a,(hole) with the increasing inverse film thickness (h(-1)), suggesting that the presence of a free surface with faster dynamics promotes hole diffusion in thin films. This finding demonstrates that the free volume release in thin films and thus the confined polymer dynamics can be modulated by changing the free surface properties of the films.