Development of environmentally responsive multifunctional microgel particles: synthesis, characterization and applications
Environmentally responsive microgels have drawn significant attention due to their intrinsic ability to change volume in response to various external stimuli such as pH, temperature, osmotic pressure, or electric and magnetic fields. The extent of particle swelling is controlled by the nature of the polymer-solvent interaction. This thesis focuses on design and synthesis of environmentally responsive microgels and their composites, and encompasses methods of utilizing microgel systems in applications as vehicles for the adsorption, retention, and targeted delivery of chemical species. Furthermore, self-assembled microgel particles at ionic liquid (IL)-water interfaces demonstrate responsive colloidal lattice morphology. The thesis first reports on the fundamental aspects of synthesis, functionalization, and characteristic properties of multifunctional environmentally responsive microgels derived from poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAm) and other functional co-monomers. In particular, the uptake and release of active chemical species such as rheology modifiers into and from these ionic microgels is demonstrated. Moreover, a facile tunable method for the formation of organic-inorganic composites with Fe3O4 nanoparticles adsorbed and embedded within ionic microgel particles is explored. Additionally, the development of zwitterionic microgels (ZI-MG) is presented. These aqueous ZI-MG dispersions exhibit reversible parabolic swelling as a function of pH and display a minimum hydrodynamic diameter at a tunable isoelectric point (IEP). This study also elucidates the controlled uptake and release of surfactants from these particle systems. The extent of surfactant loading and the ensuing relative swelling/deswelling behaviors within the polymer networks are explained in terms of their binding interactions. The latter part of this thesis highlights the versatility of fluorescently labeled microgel particles as stabilizers for IL-water droplets. When the prepared particles form monolayers and equilibrate at the liquid-liquid interface, the colloidal lattice organization may re-order itself depending on the surface charge of these particles. Finally, it is shown that the spontaneously formed and densely packed layers of microgel particles can be employed for extraction applications, as the interface remains permeable to small active species.