Switch It Inside-Out: "Schizophrenic" Behavior of All Thermoresponsive UCST-LCST Diblock Copolymers

Langmuir. 2019 Jul 30;35(30):9660-9676. doi: 10.1021/acs.langmuir.9b01444. Epub 2019 Jul 17.

Abstract

This feature article reviews our recent advancements on the synthesis, phase behavior, and micellar structures of diblock copolymers consisting of oppositely thermoresponsive blocks in aqueous environments. These copolymers combine a nonionic block, which shows lower critical solution temperature (LCST) behavior, with a zwitterionic block that exhibits an upper critical solution temperature (UCST). The transition temperature of the latter class of polymers is strongly controlled by its molar mass and by the salt concentration, in contrast to the rather invariant transition of nonionic polymers with type II LCST behavior such as poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) or poly(N-isopropyl methacrylamide). This allows for implementing the sequence of the UCST and LCST transitions of the polymers at will by adjusting either molecular or, alternatively, physical parameters. Depending on the location of the transition temperatures of both blocks, different switching scenarios are realized from micelles to inverse micelles, namely via the molecularly dissolved state, the aggregated state, or directly. In addition to studies of (semi)dilute aqueous solutions, highly concentrated systems have also been explored, namely water-swollen thin films. Concerning applications, we discuss the possible use of the diblock copolymers as "smart" nanocarriers.