Network Deconstruction Reveals Network Structure in Responsive Microgels

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Detailed characterization of hydrogel particle erosion revealed critical physicochemical differences between spheres, where network decomposition was informative of network structure. Real-time, in situ monitoring of the triggered erosion of colloidal hydrogels (microgels) was performed via multiangle light scattering. The solution-average molar mass and root-mean-square radii of eroding particles were measured as a function of time for microgels prepared from N-isopropylacrylamide (NIPAm) or N-isopropylrnethacrylamide (NIPMAm), copolymerized with a chemically labile cross-linker (1,2-dihydroxylethylene)bisacrylamide (DHEA). Precipitation polymerization was employed to yield particles of comparable dimensions but with distinct topological features. Heterogeneous cross-linker incorporation resulted in a heterogeneous network structure for pNIPAm microgels. During the erosion reaction, mass loss proceeded from the exterior toward the interior of the polymer. In contrast, pNIPMAm microgels had a more homogeneous network structure, which resulted in a more uniform mass loss throughout the particle during erosion. Although both particle types degraded into low molar mass products, pNIPAm microgels were incapable of complete dissolution due to the presence of nondegradable cross-links arising from chain transfer and branching during particle synthesis. The observations described herein provide insight into key design parameters associated with the synthesis of degradable hydrogel particles, which may be of use in various biotechnological applications.


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Journal of Physical Chemistry B, volume 115, issue 14, 2011 following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version is available online at DOI: 10.1021/jp111634k.


American Chemical Society