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Controlled Synthesis and Fluorescence Tracking of Highly Uniform Poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) Microgels

Published: September 8th, 2016



1Institute of Physical Chemistry, RWTH Aachen University

Non-stirred precipitation polymerization provides a rapid, reproducible prototyping approach to the synthesis of stimuli-sensitive poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) microgels of narrow size distribution. In this protocol synthesis, light scattering characterization and single particle fluorescence tracking of these microgels in a wide-field microscopy setup are demonstrated.

Stimuli-sensitive poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAM) microgels have various prospective practical applications and uses in fundamental research. In this work, we use single particle tracking of fluorescently labeled PNIPAM microgels as a showcase for tuning microgel size by a rapid non-stirred precipitation polymerization procedure. This approach is well suited for prototyping new reaction compositions and conditions or for applications that do not require large amounts of product. Microgel synthesis, particle size and structure determination by dynamic and static light scattering are detailed in the protocol. It is shown that the addition of functional comonomers can have a large influence on the particle nucleation and structure. Single particle tracking by wide-field fluorescence microscopy allows for an investigation of the diffusion of labeled tracer microgels in a concentrated matrix of non-labeled microgels, a system not easily investigated by other methods such as dynamic light scattering.

Stimuli-sensitive poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAM) microgels 1,2 have attracted continuous interest over the past two decades due to their potential in various smart applications. Demonstrated use cases include switchable emulsion stabilizers 3-8, microlenses 9, cell culture substrates for easy cell harvesting 10,11, and smart carriers for low molecular weight compounds and other biomedical uses 12. From a fundamental research point of view these particles have been proven to be useful for investigating subjects such as colloidal interactions 13-15 and polymer-solvent interactions 16-1....

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1. Microgel Synthesis

NOTE: N-isopropylacrylamide (NIPAM) was recrystallized from n-hexane. Other reagents were used as received.

  1. Conventional Batch Synthesis of Poly(NIPAM) Matrix Microgels
    1. Dissolve 1.8 g NIPAM and 24 mg N,N'-bisacrylamide (BIS) in 245 ml filtered (0.2 µm regenerated cellulose (RC) membrane filter) double distilled water in a 500 ml three-neck round bottom flask equipped with a reflux condenser, a stirrer and a rubber septum........

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The number of PNIPAM microgel particles in the batch, and thus the final particle volume, is determined early in the reaction during the nucleation phase 20 Hydrophobic co-monomer dye methacryloxyethyl thiocarbamoyl rhodamine B influences the nucleation by reducing the particle number density in the batch. The decrease in particle concentration for two different initial NIPAM concentrations can be seen as increase in.......

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Addition of small amounts of functional comonomer can have a significant effect on the particle size and structure of the PNIPAM derived microgels. Simultaneous small-scale test tube polymerization is a good method to account for such changes, and helps to rapidly find the right reactant compositions for target particle size for upscaling the reaction as needed. The mass of the particles is approximately exponentially dependent on the .......

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The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) is acknowledged for financial support within the Sonderforschungsbereich SFB 985 "Functional Microgels and Microgel Systems".


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Name Company Catalog Number Comments
Acetone VWR Chemicals KRAF13455
Bisacrylamid AppliChem A3636
n-Hexane Merck 104374
N-Isopropylacrylamide Fisher Scientific AC412785000 recrystallized from n-hexane
Methacryloxyethyl thiocarbamoyl rhodamine B Polysciences 23591
Potassium peroxodisulfate Merck 105091
Silicone oil 47 V 350 VWR Chemicals 83851
Toluene Sigma Aldrich 244511
F12 Refrigerated/heating circulator Julabo 9116612
Microscope Olympus IX83
XY(Z) Piezo System Physik Instrumente P-545.3R7
100x Oil immersion objective Olympus UPLSAPO
QuadLine Beamsplitter AHF Analysentechnik F68-556T
 Cobolt Jive 150 laser Cobolt 0561-04-01-0150-300
Multimode Fiber Thorlabs UM22-600
iXON Ultra 897 EMCCD camera Andor DU-897U-CS0-BV
Laser goniometer SLS Systemtechnik Mark III
CF40 Cryo-compact circulator Julabo 9400340
Laser goniometer system  ALV GmbH ALV / CGS-8F
Multi-tau corretator ALV GmbH ALV-7004
Light scattering electronics ALV GmbH ALV / LSE 5004
Photon counting module PerkinElmer SPCM-CD2969 2 units in pseudo cross-correlation mode
633 nm HeNe Laser JDS Uniphase 1145P
F32 Refrigerated/heating circulator Julabo 9312632

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