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The Importance of Excess Poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) for the Aggregation of Poly(N-isopropylacrylamide)-Coated Gold Nanoparticles.

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Jones, Samuel T 
Walsh-Korb, Zarah 
Barrow, Steven J 
Henderson, Sarah L 
del Barrio, Jesús 


Thermoresponsive materials are generating significant interest on account of the sharp and tunable temperature deswelling transition of the polymer chain. Such materials have shown promise in drug delivery devices, sensing systems, and self-assembly. Incorporation of nanoparticles (NPs), typically through covalent attachment of the polymer chains to the NP surface, can add additional functionality and tunability to such hybrid materials. The versatility of these thermoresponsive polymer/nanoparticle materials has been shown previously; however, significant and important differences exist in the published literature between virtually identical materials. Here we use poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAm)-AuNPs as a model system to understand the aggregation behavior of thermoresponsive polymer-coated nanoparticles in pure water, made by either grafting-to or grafting-from methods. We show that, contrary to popular belief, the aggregation of PNIPAm-coated AuNPs, and likely other such materials, relies on the size and concentration of unbound "free" PNIPAm in solution. It is this unbound polymer that also leads to an increase in solution turbidity, a characteristic that is typically used to prove nanoparticle aggregation. The size of PNIPAm used to coat the AuNPs, as well as the concentration of the resultant polymer-AuNP composites, is shown to have little effect on aggregation. Without free PNIPAm, contraction of the polymer corona in response to increasing temperature is observed, instead of nanoparticle aggregation, and is accompanied by no change in solution turbidity or color. We develop an alternative method for removing all traces of excess free polymer and develop an approach for analyzing the aggregation behavior of such materials, which truly allows for heat-triggered aggregation to be studied.



LCST, N-isopropylacrylamide, NIPAm, aggregate, aggregation, gold, nanoparticle

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ACS Nano

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American Chemical Society (ACS)
European Commission (658360)
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/H007024/1)
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/L027151/1)
European Research Council (240629)
European Commission (273807)
STJ acknowledges support from EU NanoSci-E+CUBiHOLE grant (EP/H007024/1). S.J.B thanks the European Commission for a Marie Curie Fellowship (NANOSPHERE, 658360). J.d.B. is grateful for a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship (PhotoTRAP 273807), we also acknowledge support from an ERC Starting Investigator Grant (ASPiRe, 240629) and a Next Generation Fellowship provided by the Walters-Kundert Foundation