Collaborative: The Polyelectrolyte-Ionomer Transition in Polymers

Project: Research project

Project Details


Technical Summary

Polymers with charges on their backbones, along with neutralizing small molecule counterions, are termed polyelectrolytes or ionomers. The chief distinguishing factors between these different terms is the state of aggregation of the charges: in the case of polyelectrolytes, a significant fraction of the counterions are dissociated from the chain and can move freely through the system. In contrast, in the case of ionomers, nearly all counterions are strongly condensed onto the chain, and additionally these neutral charge pairs may form neutral aggregates of many ion pairs. While the attractiveness of these materials comes from the fact that they selectively transport cations alone, this is mitigated by the fact that the presence of isolated aggregates can make ion conduction a very slow transport process. The goal is to understand the factors which control the ion pairing to form isolated dipoles, and the further factors which drive these dipoles to self-assemble into aggregates. The dielectric constant of a relatively nonpolar polymer will be changed by adding a high dielectric constant solvent and vary temperature over a wide range. Aggregation will be studied directly through STEM and both SAXS and SANS. Less direct techniques will also be used, such as mechanical rheology and DSC, where self-assembly of ion pairs into aggregates is associated with a signature that is akin to a glass transition and rheology strongly depends on whether the counterions are free, paired or clustered. Recently developed dielectric spectroscopy methods will determine free ion content and mobility in ionomers, directly assessing the extent of ion pair formation. These studies will be complimented by computer simulations, employing Monte Carlo and Molecular Dynamics methods.

Non-Technical Summary

The intellectual merit of this research will be an improved understanding of ion-pairing and ion-pair clustering, culminating in the development of a new model that fully details the transition from polyelectrolyte to ionomer. Such ion-containing polymers are of considerable interest since they have been proposed for use in actuators, fuel cell membrane electrode assemblies and for the cation conduction medium for advanced batteries. Hence, this research should facilitate polymer design for actuators, fuel cells and batteries. Materials development in the energy field is expected to play a very important role in the future of the United States economy and way of life. Graduate students trained in this 'energy materials' arena will be in enormous demand in both US industry and academia. PSU and Columbia have superb undergraduates and research motivates them to attend graduate school (14/23 of our undergraduate researchers have gone on to graduate school in science and engineering over the past 10 years) with many current undergraduates interested in 'energy materials'

Effective start/end date8/1/077/31/10


  • National Science Foundation: $390,000.00


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