Infrared nanospectroscopy depth-dependent study of modern materials: morpho-chemical analysis of polyurethane/fibroin binary meshes

Alice Caldiroli, Sara Cappelletti, Giovanni Birarda, Alberto Redaelli, Stefania Adele Riboldi, Chiaramaria Stani, Lisa Vaccari and Federica Piccirilli

Analyst 148, 3584 (2023)
Infrared scattering-type scanning near-field optical microscopy (IR s-SNOM) and imaging is here exploited together with attenuated total reflection (ATR) IR imaging and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to depict the chemical composition of fibers in hybrid electrospun meshes. The focus is on a recently developed bio-hybrid material for vascular tissue engineering applications, named Silkothane®, obtained in the form of nanofibrous matrices from the processing of a silk fibroin-polyurethane (SFPU) blend via electrospinning. Morphology and chemistry of single fibers, at both surface and subsurface level, have been successfully characterized with nanoscale resolution, taking advantage of the IR s-SNOM capability to portray the nanoscale depth profile of this modern material working at diverse harmonics of the signal. The applied methodology allowed to describe the superficial characteristics of the mesh up to a depth of about 100 nm, showing that SF and PU do not tend to co-aggregate to form hybrid fibers, at least at the length scale of hundreds of nanometers, and that subdomains other than the fibrillar ones can be present. More generally, in the present contribution, the depth profiling capabilities of IR s-SNOM, so far theoretically predicted and experimentally proven only on model systems, have been corroborated on a real material in its natural conditions with respect to production, opening the room for the exploitation of IR s-SNOM as valuable technique to support the production and the engineering of nanostructured materials by the precise understanding of their chemistry at the interface with the environment.