Nanotribological investigation of polymer brushes with lithographically defined and systematically varying grafting densities

Zhenyu Zhang, Mark Moxey, Abdullah Alswieleh, Steven P. Armes, Andrew Lewis, Mark Geoghegan, Graham J. Leggett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
162 Downloads (Pure)


Following controlled photodeprotection of a 2-nitrophenylpropyloxycarbonyl-protected (aminopropyl)triethoxysilane (NPPOC-APTES) film and subsequent derivatization with a bromoester-based initiator, poly(2-(methacryloyloxy)ethyl phosphorylcholine) (PMPC) brushes with various grafting densities were grown from planar silicon substrates using atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP). The grafting density correlated closely with the extent of deprotection of the NPPOC-APTES. The coefficient of friction for such PMPC brushes was measured by friction force microscopy (FFM) in water and found to be inversely proportional to the grafting density due to the osmotic pressure that resists deformation. Deprotection of NPPOC-APTES via near-field photolithography using a range of writing rates enabled the fabrication of neighbouring nanoscopic polymeric structures with dimensions ranging from 100 to 1000 nm. Slow writing rates enable complete deprotection to occur, hence polymer brushes are formed with comparable thicknesses to macroscopic brushes grown under same conditions. However, the extent of deprotection is reduced at higher writing rates, resulting in the concomitant reduction of the brush thickness. The coefficient of friction for such polymer brushes varied smoothly with brush height, with lower coefficients being obtained at slower writing rate (increasing initiator density) because the solvated brush layer confers greater lubricity. However, when ultra-sharp probes were used for nanotribological measurements, the coefficient of friction increased with brush thickness. Under such conditions, the radius of curvature of the tip is comparable to the mean spacing between brush chains, allowing the probe to penetrate the brush layer leading to a relatively large contact area.
Original languageEnglish
Early online date2 Jan 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Jan 2017


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