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Phys Rev Lett. 2008 Aug 29;101(9):096101. Epub 2008 Aug 26.

Substrate and chain size dependence of near surface dynamics of glassy polymers.

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Department of Physics and Astronomy and Guelph-Waterloo Physics Institute, University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue West, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, N2L 3G1.


We use nanohole relaxation to study the surface relaxation of films of glassy isotactic poly (methyl methacrylate) (i-PMMA) films. These measurements allow us to obtain the time dependent relaxation function at a number of different sample temperatures for the first 2-3 nm of the free surface in a system often used as a model system for the effect of the substrate on thin film dynamics. The surface is observed to relax at temperatures up to 42 K below the bulk Tg value, even on systems where the thin film Tg is known to be greater than the bulk value. We are able to determine the range over which the substrate directly affects the free surface relaxation, and determine a surprisingly large (Mw independent) limiting thickness of approximately 180 nm where the free surface relaxation is not affected by the substrate. For thick films (h>200 nm) we find an unexpected linear Mw dependence of the near surface relaxation time.

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