Physical aging of glassy polymers in confined environments
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This research project investigated the physical aging of glassy polymers in confined environments. Many recent studies of aging in glassy polymers have observed that aging behavior is often strongly affected by confinement. Understanding aging in confined environments (e.g., thin polymer films and nanocomposites) is vital for predicting long-term performance in applications that use confined glassy polymers, such as gas separation membranes and advanced nanocomposite materials. Aging in bulk and layered films produced via layer-multiplying co-extrusion was studied using gas permeability measurement and differential scanning calorimetry (DSC). The layered films consisted of polysulfone (PSF) and a rubbery co-layering material, with PSF layers ranging in thickness from ~185 nm to ~400 nm. Gas permeation aging studies at 35 °C revealed that the PSF layers in layered films aged in a manner that was similar to bulk PSF and independent of layer thickness. This finding differs from what was observed previously in freestanding PSF films, in which aging depended strongly on thickness and was accelerated relative to bulk. Isothermal aging studies at 170 °C and cooling rate studies were performed on both bulk and layered samples using DSC. The aging of the PSF layers was similar to aging in bulk PSF for films having PSF layer thicknesses of ~640 nm and ~260 nm, while the film with 185 nm PSF layers showed a slightly higher aging rate than that of bulk PSF. The results of the DSC studies generally support the conclusions of our gas permeation aging studies. The absence of strong thickness dependence in aging studies of layered films tends to support the idea that the effect of film thickness on physical aging stems from interfacial characteristics and not merely thickness per se. The physical aging of thin polystyrene (PS) films at 35 °C was also investigated using gas permeation techniques. PS films of 400 nm and 800 nm did not exhibit aging behavior that was highly accelerated relative to bulk or strongly dependent on film thickness. At the thicknesses and aging temperature considered, the aging of PS shows much weaker thickness dependence than that seen in polymers like PSF and Matrimid.