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Tunable Multiscale Nanoparticle Ordering by Polymer Crystallization


The multiscale assembly of nanoparticles is achieved by leveraging the hierarchical structure of lamellar polymer crystals and the kinetics of crystallization. This NP ordering increases the Young’s modulus but without sacrificing fracture toughness.While ∼75% of commercially utilized polymers are semicrystalline, the generally low mechanical modulus of these materials, especially for those possessing a glass transition temperature below room temperature, restricts their use for structural applications. Our focus in this paper is to address this deficiency through the controlled, multiscale assembly of nanoparticles (NPs), in particular by leveraging the kinetics of polymer crystallization. This process yields a multiscale NP structure that is templated by the lamellar semicrystalline polymer morphology and spans NPs engulfed by the growing crystals, NPs ordered into layers in the interlamellar zone [spacing of (10–100 nm)], and NPs assembled into fractal objects at the interfibrillar scale, (1–10 μm). The relative fraction of NPs in this hierarchy is readily manipulated by the crystallization speed. Adding NPs usually increases the Young’s modulus of the polymer, but the effects of multiscale ordering are nearly an order of magnitude larger than those for a state where the NPs are not ordered, i.e., randomly dispersed in the matrix. Since the material’s fracture toughness remains practically unaffected in this process, this assembly strategy allows us to create high modulus materials that retain the attractive high toughness and low density of polymers.