Studies on diffusion dynamics of single molecules (SMs) have been useful in revealing inhomogeneity of polymer thin films near and above the glass-transition temperature (Tg). However, despite several applications of polymer thin films where exposure to solvent (or vapor) is common, the effect of absorbed solvent molecules on local morphology and rigidity of polymer matrices is yet to be explored in detail. High-Tg hydrophilic polymers such as poly(vinylpyrrolidone) (PVP) are used as pharmaceutical coatings for drug release in aqueous medium, as they readily absorb moisture, which results in effective lowering of the Tg and thereby leads to plasticization. The effect of moisture absorption on swelling and softening of PVP thin films was investigated by visualizing the diffusion dynamics of rhodamine 6G (Rh6G) tracer molecules at various ambient relative humidities (RH). Wide-field epifluorescence microscopy, in conjunction with high-resolution SM tracking, was used to monitor the spatiotemporal evolution of individual tracers under varied moisture contents of the matrix. In the absence of atmospheric moisture, Rh6G molecules in dry PVP films are translationally inactive, suggestive of rigid local environments. Under low moisture contents (RH 30-50%), translational mobility remains arrested but rotational motion is augmented, indicating slight swelling of the polymer network which marks the onset of plasticization. The translational mobility of Rh6G was found to be triggered only at a threshold ambient RH, beyond which a large proportion of tracers exhibit extensive diffusion dynamics. Interestingly, SM tracking data at higher moisture contents of the film (RH ≥ 60%) reveal that the distributions of dynamic parameters (such as diffusivity) are remarkably broad, spanning several orders of magnitude. Furthermore, Rh6G molecules display a wide variety of translational motion even at a fixed ambient RH, clearly pointing out the extremely inhomogeneous environment of plasticized PVP network. Intriguingly, it is observed that a majority of tracers undergo anomalous subdiffusion even under high moisture contents of the matrix. Analyses of SM trajectories using velocity autocorrelation function reveal that subdiffusive behaviors of Rh6G are likely to originate from fractional Brownian motion, a signature of tracer dynamics in viscoelastic medium.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
- Surfaces, Coatings and Films
- Materials Chemistry