Interfacial fracture and delamination of polymer interfaces can play a critical role in a wide range of applications, including fiber-reinforced composites, flexible electronics, and encapsulation layers for photovoltaics. However, owing to the low surface energy of many thermoplastics, adhesion to dissimilar material surfaces remains a critical challenge. In this work, we demonstrate that surface treatments using atomic layer deposition (ALD) on poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) and fluorinated ethylene propylene (FEP) lead to significant increases in surface energy, without affecting the bulk mechanical response of the thermoplastic. After ALD film growth, the interfacial toughness of the PMMA-epoxy and FEP-epoxy interfaces increased by factors of up to 7 and 60, respectively. These results demonstrate the ability of ALD to engineer the adhesive properties of chemically inert surfaces. However, in the present case, the interfacial toughness was observed to decrease significantly with an increase in humidity. This was attributed to the phenomenon of stress-corrosion cracking associated with the reaction between Al2O3 and water and might have a significant implication for the design of these tailored interfaces.
Keywords: adhesion; atomic layer deposition; interfacial toughness; polymers; vapor-phase infiltration.