PMMA-g-OEtOx Graft Copolymers: Influence of Grafting Degree and Side Chain Length on the Conformation in Aqueous Solution

Muljajew, Irina; Weber, Christine; Nischang, Ivo; Schubert, Ulrich S.
Depending on the degree of grafting (DG) and the side chain degree of polymerization (DP), graft copolymers may feature properties similar to statistical copolymers or to block copolymers. This issue is approached by studying aqueous solutions of PMMA-g-OEtOx graft copolymers comprising a hydrophobic poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) backbone and hydrophilic oligo(2-ethyl-2-oxazoline) (OEtOx) side chains. The graft copolymers were synthesized via reversible addition-fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) copolymerization of methyl methacrylate (MMA) and OEtOx-methacrylate macromonomers of varying DP. All aqueous solutions of PMMA-g-OEtOx (9% ≤ DG ≤ 34%; 5 ≤ side chain DP ≤ 24) revealed lower critical solution temperature behavior. The graft copolymer architecture significantly influenced the aggregation behavior, the conformation in aqueous solution and the coil to globule transition, as verified by means of turbidimetry, dynamic light scattering, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and analytical ultracentrifugation. The aggregation behavior of graft copolymers with a side chain DP of 5 was significantly affected by small variations of the DG, occasionally forming mesoglobules above the cloud point temperature (Tcp), which was around human body temperature. On the other hand, PMMA-g-OEtOx with elongated side chains assembled into well-defined structures below the Tcp (apparent aggregation number (Nagg = 10)) that were able to solubilize Disperse Orange 3. The thermoresponsive behavior of aqueous solutions thus resembled that of micelles comprising a poly(2-ethyl-2-oxazoline) (PEtOx) shell (Tcp > 60 °C).
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