Contraction of weak polyelectrolyte multilayers in response to organic solvents

Yuanqing Gu, Yubing Ma, Bryan D. Vogt, Nicole S. Zacharia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Weak polyelectrolyte multilayers (PEMs) prepared by the layer-by-layer assembly technique have recently been found to demonstrate a unique contraction upon exposure to organic solvents. This response is dependent upon which organic solvent is employed, and fundamental questions have not been clarified regarding the correlation of the magnitude of the film contraction with solvent type. In this work, we used solubility parameters to analyze the response of branched poly(ethylene imine)/poly(acrylic acid) (BPEI/PAA) multilayers when exposed to a variety of solvents. BPEI/PAA multilayers were immersed in a series of 16 different organic solvents and solvent mixtures. Immersion in organic solvent caused film dehydration and therefore contraction and also induced changes in the mechanical properties of PEMs. The film thickness was the best predictor of how a film swelled in water or contracted in organic solvent when using different batches of commercially available polyelectrolytes, rather than polyelectrolyte assembly pH conditions. The degree of film contraction was correlated with Hansen and Kamlet-Taft solubility parameters as well as solvent dielectric constant. In most cases, the hydrogen bonding ability of solvents is the primary factor to determine the magnitude of film contraction. For these solvents, increasing the temperature which corresponds to decreasing the strength of hydrogen bonding, also decreases the ability to dehydrate the films. For solvents that do not follow these trends with the strength of hydrogen bonding, a stronger correlation was found between contraction and dielectric constant, indicating that both traditional solvent quality arguments and electrostatics are important to understanding the contraction of PEMs in organic solvents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1859-1867
Number of pages9
JournalSoft matter
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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