Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Chemical Engineering (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Chemical Engineering


Gerard Caneba


Free-radical retrograde-precipitation polymerization, FRRPP in short, is a novel polymerization process discovered by Dr. Gerard Caneba in the late 1980s. The current study is aimed at gaining a better understanding of the reaction mechanism of the FRRPP and its thermodynamically-driven features that are predominant in controlling the chain reaction.

A previously developed mathematical model to represent free radical polymerization kinetics was used to simulate a classic bulk polymerization system from the literature. Unlike other existing models, such a sparse-matrix-based representation allows one to explicitly accommodate the chain length dependent kinetic parameters.

Extrapolating from the past results, mixing was experimentally shown to be exerting a significant influence on reaction control in FRRPP systems. Mixing alone drives the otherwise severely diffusion-controlled reaction propagation in phase-separated polymer domains. Therefore, in a quiescent system, in the absence of mixing, it is possible to retard the growth of phase-separated domains, thus producing isolated polymer nanoparticles (globules). Such a diffusion-controlled, self-limiting phenomenon of chain growth was also observed using time-resolved small angle x-ray scattering studies of reaction kinetics in quiescent systems of FRRPP. Combining the concept of self-limiting chain growth in quiescent FRRPP systems with spatioselective reaction initiation of lithography, microgel structures were synthesized in a single step, without the use of molds or additives. Hard x-rays from the bending magnet radiation of a synchrotron were used as an initiation source, instead of the more statistally-oriented chemical initiators. Such a spatially-defined reaction was shown to be self-limiting to the irradiated regions following a polymerization-induced self-assembly phenomenon. The pattern transfer aspects of this technique were, therefore, studied in the FRRP polymerization of N-isopropylacrylamide (NIPAm) and methacrylic acid (MAA), a thermoreversible and ionic hydrogel, respectively. Reaction temperature increases the contrast between the exposed and unexposed zones of the formed microgels, while the irradiation dose is directly proportional to the extent of phase separation. The response of Poly (NIPAm) microgels prepared from the technique described in this study was also characterized by small angle neutron scattering.