Triggerable strong polyelectrolyte-containing block copolymers for enhanced underwater adhesives (dr. Anton Hofman)

Strong polyelectrolytes are polymers that are formed through polymerization of charged monomers (either positive or negative), with the presence of these charges being independent of the pH and temperature. In other words, and unlike weak polyelectrolytes, the charge density of such polymeric materials is insensitive to the environment. Block copolymers that combine such strong polyelectrolytes with hydrophobic features are therefore highly interesting for use in underwater adhesives. However, due to their amphiphilic nature, the synthesis, characterization and processing of such polymers is a challenging task, likely even impossible.

To this end, in this research project we will design new materials based on protected strong electrolytes and hydrophobic monomers, resulting in fully hydrophobic block copolymers that can be synthesized, characterized and processed following conventional routes. Subsequently, an external trigger (e.g. thermal or chemical) will transform the hydrophobic material into the desired ionic-hydrophobic block copolymer (Figure 1). Before being applied in adhesives, a better understanding of the amphiphilic character is expected to be achieved by first studying the self-assembly of these copolymers in bulk and solution, using techniques like light scattering, X-ray diffraction and electron microscopy.