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Analysis of a Polystyrene–Toluene System through “Dynamic” Sorption Tests: Glass Transitions and Retrograde Vitrification

Pierleoni, Davide, Minelli, Matteo, Scherillo, Giuseppe, Mensitieri, Giuseppe, Loianno, Valerio, Bonavolontà, Francesco, Doghieri, Ferruccio
The Journal of physical chemistry 2017 v.121 no.42 pp. 9969-9981
glass transition, glass transition temperature, liquids, molecular weight, polystyrenes, sorption, thermodynamics, toluene, vapors, vitrification
Exposing a glassy polymer to a fluid phase (in gaseous or liquid state) containing a low molecular weight compound results in the sorption of the latter within the polymer, inducing, among other effects, the plasticization of the material which also promotes a change in the glass transition temperature. The amount of sorbed penetrant is often related in a complex fashion to the temperature and pressure of the fluid, thus determining that the locus of glass transition, when represented in pressure–temperature coordinates, may display as well rather complex patterns. This is an issue of particular importance in several applications of glassy polymers. In particular, we investigated the behavior of polystyrene in contact with toluene vapor by performing several modes of dynamic sorption experiments, in which the rate of change of the temperature of the system and/or of the pressure of the vapor phase are controlled with high accuracy, with the aim of creating a map of rubbery and glassy states of the polymer as a function of temperature and pressure of the toluene vapor. Isothermal tests were performed by changing the pressure at a controlled rate, isobaric tests were performed by changing the temperature at a controlled rate, and isoactivity tests were performed by concurrently changing, in a proper way, both temperature and pressure. A relevant feature resulting from these experiments is the presence of a discontinuity in the slope of the mass of toluene sorbed within polystyrene reported as a function of temperature and/or pressure. This discontinuity has been interpreted as the indication of the occurrence of a glass transition. The elaboration of the experimental results allowed identification of the pressure/temperature conditions at which rubbery or glassy states of the polymer mixture are established. Quite interestingly, the system displays the so- called “retrograde vitrification” phenomenon, which consists of the occurrence of a rubbery-to-glassy state transition as the temperature increases at a fixed pressure. The whole set of results has been successfully interpreted on the basis of thermodynamics of II order transitions accounting for the fact that experimental evidence of such transitions is significantly affected by the kinetics of polymer relaxation.