Understanding the Mechanism of Star-Block Copolymers as Nanoreactors for Synthesis of Well-Defined Silver Nanoparticles
Facile and large-scale synthesis of well-defined, thermally stable silver nanoparticles protected by polymer brushes for use in practical applications is still a challenge. Recent work has reported a nanoreactor approach that can be used to synthesize these silver nanoparticles. This approach uses amphiphilic star-block copolymers, which have a hydrophilic core surrounded by a hydrophobic exterior. These polymers thus can serve as the nanoreactors. In this study, we hypothesize that the local high concentration of silver ions in the inner hydrophilic cores of these star-block copolymers facilitates the nucleation and subsequent growth of silver nanoparticles. When all silver nanoparticles nucleate from the cores of the star-block copolymers in solution, the particle size can be controlled by the core size of the polymer. To test this hypothesis, a polyisoprene-b-poly(p-tert-butylstyrene) (PI-b-PtBS) star-block copolymer was functionalized with carboxylic acid groups using a high-efficiency, photo-initiated thiol-ene click reaction. We characterized this modified polymer using proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and the results indicated that ~60% of the double bonds in the polyisoprene block were successfully functionalized with carboxylic acid groups. When silver ions were added to a solution of these functionalized star-block copolymers, the negatively charged carboxylic acid groups would attract the positively charged silver ions. Subsequent reduction of these Ag+ by a tert-butylamine-borane complex at room temperature produced nanosized silver particles. However, transmission electron microscopy images showed that a significant amount of relatively large silver nanoparticles grew outside the star-block copolymer nanoreactors.