Structure and water transport through block copolymers with a hydrophilic block

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Block copolymers are polymers comprised of “blocks” of different monomeric units connected together. Block copolymers with precisely tailored molecular structure, viz. molecular weight and connectivity of the blocks represent functional materials with remarkable properties. These materials find use in challenging applications, such as membranes for separations. This project is focused on investigations of block copolymers with glassy styrenic blocks connected to hydrophilic sulphonated blocks. Such block copolymers form films with microphase separated structure, characterized by length scales of the order of tens of nanometers. The formation of these structures is often out of equilibrium, resulting in slow structural changes in the membrane. This impacts properties such as the membrane conductivity as well as separation ability. This project will investigate the structure of these block copolymers at different levels of hydration and seek to understand the forces that drive structure formation. This structure will be correlated with properties, specifically, water transport. This project will involve extensive experimentation to characterize structure, including small angle Xray scattering and, most likely, electron microscopy. Water transport will be characterized and will be modelled and correlated with the experimentally
obtained structural information. Strong collaborations with industry are envisaged as part of this work.

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