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Determining population densities in bimodal micellar solutions using contrast-variation small angle neutron scattering...

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The Journal of Chemical Physics
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Self-assembly of amphiphilic polymers in water is of fundamental and practical importance. Significant amounts of free unimers and associated micellar aggregates often coexist over a wide range of phase regions. The thermodynamic and kinetic properties of the microphase separation are closely related to the relative population density of unimers and micelles. Although the scattering technique has been employed to identify the structure of micellar aggregates as well as their time-evolution, the determination of the population ratio of micelles to unimers remains a challenging problem due to their difference in scattering power. Here, using small-angle neutron scattering (SANS), we present a comprehensive structural study of amphiphilic n-dodecyl-PNIPAm polymers, which shows a bimodal size distribution in water. By adjusting the deuterium/hydrogen ratio of water, the intra-micellar polymer and water distributions are obtained from the SANS spectra. The micellar size and number density are further determined, and the population densities of micelles and unimers are calculated to quantitatively address the degree of micellization at different temperatures. Our method can be used to provide an in-depth insight into the solution properties of microphase separation, which are present in many amphiphilic systems.