Oliver Patrick Hewitson
Academic and research departments
My research project
Pressure-sensitive adhesives (PSAs) are usually made from viscoelastic, high-molecular weight copolymers, which are fine-tuned by adjusting the comonomer ratios, molecular weights, and cross-link densities to optimize the adhesion properties for the desired end-use. To create a lightly cross-linked network, an ultraviolet (UV) photoinitiator can be incorporated. Here, we present the first use of perfluorophenylazide chemistry to control precisely a polyacrylate network for application as a PSA. Upon UV irradiation, the highly reactive nitrene from the azide moiety reacts with nearby molecules through a C–H insertion reaction, resulting in cross-linking via covalent bonding. This approach offers three benefits: (1) a means to optimize adhesive properties without the addition of an external photoinitiator; (2) the ability to switch off the tack adhesion on demand via a high cross-linking density; and (3) a platform for additional chemical modification. A series of poly(n-butyl acrylate-co-2,3,4,5,6-pentafluorobenzyl acrylate) or poly(PFBA-co-BA) copolymers was synthesized and modified post-polymerization into the photo-reactive poly(n-butyl acrylate-co-4-azido-2,3,5,6-tetrafluorobenzyl acrylate) (azide-modified poly(PFBA-co-BA)) with various molar contents. When cast into films, the azide-modified copolymers with a high azide content achieved a very high shear resistance after UV irradiation, whereas the tack and peel adhesion decreased strongly with increasing azide content, indicating that excessive cross-linking occurred. These materials are thus photo-switchable. However, in the low range of azide content, an optimum probe tack adhesion energy was obtained in films with a 0.3 mol% azide content, where a long stress plateau (indicating good fibrillation) with a high plateau stress was observed. An optimum peel adhesion strength was achieved with 0.5 mol% azide. Thus, the adhesion was finely controlled by the degree of cross-linking of the PSA, as determined by the azide content of the copolymer chain. Finally, as a demonstration of the versatility and advantages of the materials platform, we show an azide–aldehyde–amine multicomponent modification of the azide copolymer to make a dye-functionalized film that retains its adhesive properties. This first demonstration of using azide functionality has enormous potential for functional PSA design.