Measuring the Surface Dynamics of Glassy Polymers

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Science  01 Feb 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5863, pp. 600-604
DOI: 10.1126/science.1151205

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The motion of polymer chain segments cooled below the glass transition temperature slows markedly; with sufficient cooling, segmental motion becomes completely arrested. There is debate as to whether the chain segments near the free surface, or in thin films, are affected in the same way as the bulk material. By partially embedding and then removing gold nanospheres, we produced a high surface coverage of well-defined nanodeformations on a polystyrene surface; to probe the surface dynamics, we measured the time-dependent relaxation of these surface deformations as a function of temperature from 277 to 369 kelvin. Surface relaxation was observed at all temperatures, providing strong direct evidence for enhanced surface mobility relative to the bulk. The deviation from bulk α relaxation became more pronounced as the temperature was decreased below the bulk glass transition temperature. The temperature dependence of the relaxation time was much weaker than that of the bulk α relaxation of polystyrene, and the process exhibited no discernible temperature dependence between 277 and 307 kelvin.

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