Conformation in Ultrathin Polymer Brush Coatings Resolved by Infrared Nanoscopy

A. de los Santos Pereira, A. Cernescu, J. Svoboda, R. Sivkova, I. Romanenko, B. Bashta, F. Keilmann and O. Pop-Georgievski

Anal. Chem. , Articles ASAP (2020)
Polymer brush coatings are effective in preventing blood coagulation or bacterial attachment, but their chain conformation, while vital for this effect, was never characterized in high spatial resolution. Here, we report mid-infrared spectroscopic nanoscopy studies of few-nanometer-thin poly(ethylene oxide) (PEO) films which reveal marked spectral variations along the surface at a length scale smaller than 100 nm and originating only from the physical conformation of the chains. The conformation and average orientation of the polymer chains in the layer is extracted from the spectra with the aid of theoretic modeling, confirming the spontaneous formation of a crystalline phase. This result suggests spectroscopic nanoscopy as a powerful new tool to characterize polymer brush coatings.