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Extraction of interaction parameters from specular neutron reflectivity in thin films of diblock copolymers: an “inverse problem”

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7280 to 7291

Diblock copolymers have been shown to undergo microphase separation due to an interplay of repulsive interactions between dissimilar monomers, which leads to the stretching of chains and entropic loss due to the stretching. In thin films, additional effects due to confinement and monomer–surface interactions make microphase separation much more complicated than in that in bulks (i.e., without substrates). Previously, physics-based models have been used to interpret and extract various interaction parameters from the specular neutron reflectivities of annealed thin films containing diblock copolymers (J. P. Mahalik, J. W. Dugger, S. W. Sides, B. G. Sumpter, V. Lauter and R. Kumar, Interpreting neutron reflectivity profiles of diblock copolymer nanocomposite thin films using hybrid particle-field simulations, Macromolecules, 2018, 51(8), 3116; J. P. Mahalik, W. Li, A. T. Savici, S. Hahn, H. Lauter, H. Ambaye, B. G. Sumpter, V. Lauter and R. Kumar, Dispersity-driven stabilization of coexisting morphologies in asymmetric diblock copolymer thin films, Macromolecules, 2021, 54(1), 450). However, extracting Flory–Huggins χ parameters characterizing monomer–monomer, monomer–substrate, and monomer–air interactions has been labor-intensive and prone to errors, requiring the use of alternative methods for practical purposes. In this work, we have developed such an alternative method by employing a multi-layer perceptron, an autoencoder, and a variational autoencoder. These neural networks are used to extract interaction parameters not only from neutron scattering length density profiles constructed using self-consistent field theory-based simulations, but also from a noisy ad hoc model constructed previously. In particular, the variational autoencoder is shown to be the most promising tool when it comes to the reconstruction and extraction of parameters from an ad hoc neutron scattering length density profile of a thin film containing a symmetric di-block copolymer (poly(deuterated styrene-b-n-butyl methacrylate)). This work paves the way for automated analysis of specular neutron reflectivities from thin films of copolymers using machine learning tools.