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Anal Chem. 2005 May 15;77(10):3292-300.

Analysis of poly(oxyethylene) and poly(oxypropylene) triblock copolymers by MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry.

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Laboratoire Analyse et Environnement, Université d'Evry Val d'Essonne, CNRS UMR 8587, Bd François Mitterrand, 91025 Evry Cedex, France.


Triblock copolymers of ethylene oxide (EO) and propylene oxide (PO) are widely used in the chemical industry as nonionic surfactants. Triblock copolymers can be arranged in a EO-PO-EO or PO-EO-PO sequence. This arrangement results in an amphiphilic copolymer, in which the block sequence and block length determine the properties of the copolymer. MALDI-TOF MS was used to analyze various triblock copolyethers: EO-PO-EO (Mn =2000 g.mol(-1)), PO-EO-PO (Mn = 2000 g.mol(-1)), and a random copolymer EO/PO (Mn = 2500 g.mol(-1)). Data treatment was assisted by using a homemade software allowing a picture of monomer composition of oligomers from the mass spectra. MALDI-TOF mass spectra of EO/PO copolymers were shown to depend strongly on the number of laser shots, relative proportions of polymer/salt, and the nature of the matrix. An unsaturated byproduct was detected. Its presence was demonstrated by prefractionation of copolymers by SEC before MALDI-TOF analysis, and its content was estimated by 1H NMR. The formation of layers inside the MALDI deposit was evidenced by varying the number of laser shots. Lighter oligomers of the copolymer, unsaturated byproduct, or both would be in the core of the deposit, coated with heavier oligomer. The layer formation depends on the nature of the matrix and the quantity of added salt. DHB matrix with a relative high sodium salt content induces layer formation inside the deposit, whereas dithranol matrix or low salt content does not. Consequently, an optimization of experimental parameters in order to estimate the lighter oligomers or unsaturated byproduct content or to obtain the actual representation of the monomer contribution in the copolymers from the MS data only seems obviously critical. MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry is obviously a powerful technique to analyze copolymers, but a careful survey of the experimental parameters is required. The combination of MALDI-TOF MS with separations techniques and NMR brings precious complementary information.

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