Logo JG-Universität MainzProf. Dr. Axel Müller


PhD Thesis

"Smart" Hydrogels based on Trishydrophilic Triblock Terpolymers

Stefan Reinicke (11/2006-03/2011)

Support: Axel H. E. Müller

The work presented in this thesis focuses on the synthesis of double stimuli-responsive, trishydrophilic triblock terpolymers and their utilization for the construction of “smart” hydrogel systems, responding to a variety of external stimuli. The central focus was put on ABC triblock terpolymers composed of a pH-sensitive A block, a water soluble B block and a thermo-sensitive or multi-responsive C block. This concept was used for the construction of hydrogels responding independently to pH, temperature, and UV light. It was further applied to the formation of polymer/nanoparticle hybrid micelles suitable for the formation of magneto-responsive hydrogels (ferrogels).

At first, a new route for the synthesis of block copolymers, containing ethylene oxide and glycidol derivatives, was developed. The crucial aspect of this procedure, based on sequential anionic polymerization, was the utilization of the phosphazene base t-BuP4, enabling the anionic polymerization of epoxide monomers in the presence of lithium counterions. It was shown, that ethoxyethyl glycidyl ether polymerizes easily under the established polymerization conditions without unwanted termination. Hence, we were able to synthesize well-defined block copolymers containing vinyl and epoxide monomers in a one-pot reaction, without performing additional intermediate steps.

This new synthetic route was then utilized to synthesize a series of poly(2-vinylpyridine)-block-poly(ethylene oxide)-block-poly(glycidyl methyl ether-co-ethyl glycidyl ether) (P2VP-b-PEO-b-P(GME-co-EGE)) triblock terpolymers suitable for pH and temperature dependent hydrogel formation. The reversible gelation for this particular system relies on two distinct mechanisms. Under conditions, where only one outer block is insoluble, core-shell-corona (CSC) micelles are formed, resulting in gelation via close cubic packing of the micelles. On the other hand, the micelles are also able to crosslink through their corona when both outer blocks are insoluble. As a direct consequence, a temperature triggered gel-sol-gel transition occurred at pH = 7, accompanied by a unique gel strengthening. Solubility and gelation studies were performed by DLS, rheology and SANS. The influence of polymer concentrations and block lengths on the gelation behavior and gel properties was studied.

In order to derive information about the exact structure of the cubic lattice formed in the low temperature gel phase (simple cubic or body centered cubic), a 19 wt% aqueous solution of a particular P2VP-b-PEO-b-P(GME-co-EGE) triblock terpolymer at pH = 7 was further investigated using SANS under steady shear. By application of shear stress, the irregularly arranged polydomains of the sample oriented macroscopically along a preferred direction, which led to highly defined, strongly anisotropic 2D scattering patterns. The interpretation of these patterns confirmed the presence of a body centered cubic packing. The gel-sol transition upon temperature increase can be explained by a shrinkage of the shell of the CSC micelles.

To increase the versatility of the established hydrogel concept, we further synthesized ABC triblock terpolymers with different responsive polymers as C blocks. This required an alternative synthetic route, combining anionic polymerization and ATRP via “click” chemistry. After optimization of each synthetic step, exemplary poly(2-vinylpyridine)-block-poly(ethylene oxide)-block-poly(oligo(ethylene glycol) methacrylate) (P2VP-b-PEO-b-POEGMA) and poly(2-vinylpyridine)-block-poly(ethylene oxide)-block-poly(dimethyl-aminoethyl methacrylate) (P2VP-b-PEO-b-PDMAEMA) triblock terpolymers were synthesized, respectively, and characterized regarding their solubility and gelation behavior. At pH > 5, P2VP-b-PEO-b-PDMAEMA forms CSC micelles with a P2VP core, and a pH- as well as thermo-sensitive PDMAEMA corona. This particular structure represents a hydrogel, whose temperature dependent response can be easily changed from a gel-sol to a sol-gel transition by increasing the pH from 8 to 9. At pH = 7.5 on the other hand, gel formation is induced by the addition of hexacyanocobaltate(III) ions due to electrostatic interactions between the multivalent cobaltate ions and the charged DMAEMA units, causing a physical crosslinking of the CSC micelles. The gel can subsequently be disintegrated by an exposure to UV-light, based on a UV-catalyzed aquation of the trivalent hexacyanocobaltate(III) ions ions to divalent aquapentacyanocobaltate(III)-ions.

In the last part, a new approach was developed to create a novel type of magnetic field-responsive hydrogels (ferrogels), in which the nanoparticles are tightly bound to the polymer matrix. The P2VP block of the previously synthesized P2VP-b-PEO-b-P(GME-co-EGE) triblock terpolymers was quaternized to a low extent and complexed with negatively charged, citrate stabilized maghemite (γ-Fe(III)-oxide) nanoparticles. Using different analytical methods it was shown that well-defined CSC hybrid micelles were obtained with cores formed by a complex of P2VP and 3-4 nanoparticles per core. Concentrated solutions of these micelles are able to form gels depending on temperature, as revealed by rheology measurements. Due to the presence of the maghemite particles, it is possible to induce gelation via remote heating using AC magnetic fields, which was demonstrated by high frequency magnetocalorimetry.

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