Nanocomposites of encapsulated silica nanoparticles were prepared by in situ emulsion polymerization of acrylate monomers. The synthesized material showed good uniformity and dispersion of the inorganic components in the base polymer, which enhances the properties of the nanocomposite material. A nonionic surfactant with lower critical solution temperature (LCST) was used to encapsulate the silica nanoparticles in the acrylic copolymer matrix. This in situ method combined the surface modification and the encapsulation in a single pot, which greatly simplified the process compared with other conventional methods requiring separate processing steps. The morphology of the encapsulated nanosilica particles was investigated by dynamic light scattering (DLS) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM), which confirmed the uniform distribution of the nanoparticles without any agglomerations. A neat copolymer was also prepared as a control sample. Both the neat copolymer and the prepared nanocomposite were characterized by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), thermal gravimetric analyses (TGA), dynamic mechanical thermal analysis (DMTA) and the flame resistance test. Due to the uniform dispersion of the non-agglomerated nanoparticles in the matrix of the polymer, TGA and flame resistance test results showed remarkably improved thermal stability. Furthermore, DMTA results demonstrated an enhanced storage modulus of the nanocomposite samples compared with that of the neat copolymer, indicating its superior mechanical properties.
Keywords: cloud point; emulsion polymerization; silica nanoparticles; thermoresponsive nonionic surfactant.