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AFM Applications in Polymer Science and Engineering


Polymers are the material of choice in many applications. They can be tailored to have unique properties and are often less expensive, more durable, and more sustainable than other materials. Creating and implementing new polymers requires knowledge of how structure, processing, properties, and performance are related. Understanding these effects at the molecular or microstructural level requires that this information be acquired with micro- and nanometer resolution.

Whether investigating fundamental principles of polymer science or engineering a specific polymer solution, the AFM is a key instrument for evaluating polymers at small length scales. Its spatial resolution enables visualization of sub-micrometer and sub-nanometer polymer morphology. But AFMs can contribute much more information about polymers besides simple topographic morphology, including probing molecular-level forces; mapping mechanical, thermal, and electrical properties; and assessing solvent and thermal effects in near real time.




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Modulus mapping of PS-PCL blend – Elastic modulus overlaid on topography for a polystyrene (PS)-polycaprolactone (PCL) blend. Imaged with Fast Force Mapping Mode on the MFP-3D Infinity AFM; scan size 4 µm. The 1024x1024 image size would be impractically slow to obtain with conventional force volume techniques. It provides superb lateral resolution, resolving features as small as approximately 10 nm. As expected from bulk literature values, PS regions (yellow) have higher modulus (approximately 3 GPa) than PCL regions (purple, approximately 350 MPa). The biodegradable nature of polycaprolactone is valuable in development of new bioblend materials.


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