Exploring complex interactions within microgels and microgel assemblies
Herman, Emily Sue
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Hydrogels are water-swellable cross-linked polymeric networks that are capable of incorporating a variety of functionalities and responsivities. The stable colloidal form of a hydrogel is known as a microgel and ranges in size from the nano- to the micrometer scale. Microgels can exhibit similar properties to hydrogels, but the colloidal size of the microgel creates differences in their responsive behavior, such as faster reaction kinetics, as compared to their macrogel counterpart. Microgels have been explored for a broad range of applications, either as individual entities or within large scale assemblies. Although these materials have shown a great deal of utility and versatility, microgels have also demonstrated a great deal of complexity due to the fact that they exhibit both polymeric and colloidal properties. This so-called polymer/colloid duality creates intricacies in characterizing the behavior of these materials, especially when coupled with an oppositely charged component within multilayered assemblies. In this dissertation, work is focused primarily on building a greater fundamental understanding of microgels and their behavior within large scale assemblies. This is done through the development of new characterization techniques or through a direct visualization of the interactions of microgels with their surrounding environment with emphasis on their interaction with an oppositely charged linear polyelectrolyte. From these studies, a more developed fundamental understanding of microgels and their assembly into complex structures is obtained, and these findings will aide in the development of future applications of microgel assemblies.