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Scanning-Probe Microscopy for Imaging of Polymer Nanocomposites

M.P. Mallamaci and H.R. Wilk
PolyInsight, LLC, US

Keywords:
SPM, scanning-probe microscopy, polymer, nanocomposite, nanostructure

Abstract:
Polymer nanocomposite refers to a broad range of polymer-based materials containing structure at the nanometer scale which is critical to achieving performance goals. These nanostructures can be inherent of the polymer itself, a filler introduced for reinforcement or other benefits, or both. Consistent performance for polymer nanocomposites relies on the ability to achieve homogeneity of structure at the nanometer scale. Imaging of nanometer-scale structure is critical to the material development process; transmission-electron microscopy (TEM) is often considered the de facto technique capable of achieving the required spatial resolution. However, this spatial resolution is also available using scanning-probe microscopy (SPM). Sectioning the nanocomposite with a cryoultramicrotome to expose a smooth surface for analysis is an advantageous way to image the internal structure with SPM. Benefits of SPM for polymers include: 1) ambient conditions for analysis instead of high vacuum, 2) a larger surface area can be examined than with TEM thin sections, and 3) image contrast with the SPM is created due to nanoscale differences in mechanical properties, without the need for chemical stains. Several examples of polymer nanocomposite structures imaged by SPM will be presented.

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