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Solution Structure and Scaling Laws of Cylindrical and Tapered Bottlebrush Polymers

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Bottlebrush polymers are a unique class of macromolecular architectures with a plethora of potential industrial and pharmaceutical applications that critically depend on the bottlebrush shape and dimensions. Here, a systematic series of 12 cylindrical and 12 cone-shaped (tapered) bottlebrush polymers with poly(tert-butyl acrylate) (PtBA) or polystyrene (PS) side chains were synthesized using the sequential addition of macromonomers ring-opening metathesis polymerization (SAM-ROMP) grafting-through method. Small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) studies on dilute solutions of the two types of bottlebrush polymers provided noninvasive characterization of their structural dimensions and chain conformations. Simulated SANS traces, generated using coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulations, reproduced the distinctive features observed in the experimental SANS signals and provided necessary validation for data modeling. The combined analysis of experimental and simulated SANS signals yielded key structural and conformational parameters, including the bottlebrush radius, length, and Kuhn length as well as the excluded volume parameter and the correlation length of the polymer side chains. Importantly, the obtained structural parameters followed well-defined scaling laws as a function of the backbone and side chain degrees of polymerization, as predicted by mean field theories. These findings provide clear experimental and computational evidence of the interdependence of structural and conformational properties in an important class of polymer architectures.