Optical Imaging of Large Gyroid Grains in Block Copolymer Templates by Confined Crystallization.

29 Mar 2018

Block copolymer (BCP) self-assembly is a promising route to manufacture functional nanomaterials for applications from nanolithography to optical metamaterials. Self-assembled cubic morphologies cannot, however, be conveniently optically characterized in the lab due to their structural isotropy. Here, the aligned crystallization behavior of a semicrystalline-amorphous polyisoprene-b-polystyrene-b-poly(ethylene oxide) (ISO) triblock terpolymer was utilized to visualize the grain structure of the cubic microphase-separated morphology. Upon quenching from a solvent swollen state, ISO first self-assembles into an alternating gyroid morphology, in the confinement of which the PEO crystallizes preferentially along the least tortuous pathways of the single gyroid morphology with grain sizes of hundreds of micrometers. Strikingly, the resulting anisotropic alignment of PEO crystallites gives rise to a unique optical birefringence of the alternating gyroid domains, which allows imaging of the self-assembled grain structure by optical microscopy alone. This study provides insight into polymer crystallization within a tortuous three-dimensional network and establishes a useful method for the optical visualization of cubic BCP morphologies that serve as functional nanomaterial templates.