Time-resolving analysis of cryotropic gelation of water/poly(vinyl alcohol) solutions via small-angle neutron scattering

TitleTime-resolving analysis of cryotropic gelation of water/poly(vinyl alcohol) solutions via small-angle neutron scattering
Publication TypeArticolo su Rivista peer-reviewed
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsAuriemma, F., De Rosa C., Ricciardi Rosa, Celso F.L., Triolo R., and Pipich V.
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
KeywordsCrystallization, freezing, Gelation, neutron scattering, Polyvinyl alcohols, Room temperature, Unfrozen microphase, Water

The structural transformations occurring in initially homogeneous aqueous solutions of poly(vinyl alcohol) (PVA) through application of freezing (-13 °C) and thawing (20 °C) cycles is investigated by time resolving small-angle neutron scattering (SANS). These measurements indicate that formation of gels of complex hierarchical structure arises from occurrence of different elementary processes, involving different length and time scales. The fastest process that could be detected by our measurements during the first cryotropic treatment consists of the crystallization of the solvent. However, solvent crystallization is incomplete, and an unfrozen liquid microphase more concentrated in PVA than the initial solution is also formed. Crystallization of PVA takes place inside the unfrozen liquid microphase and is slowed down because of formation of a microgel fraction. Water crystallization takes place in the early 10 min of the treatment of the solution at subzero temperatures, and although below 0 °C the PVA solutions used for preparation of cryogels should be below the spinodal curve, occurrence of liquid-liquid phase separation could not be detected in our experiments. Upon thawing, ice crystals melt, and transparent gels are obtained that become opaque in ∼200 min, due to a slow and progressive increase of the size of microheterogeneities (dilute and dense regions) imprinted during the fast freezing by the crystallization of water. During the permanence of these gels at room temperature (for hours), the presence of a high content of water (higher than 85% by mass) prevents further crystallization of PVA. Crystallization of PVA, in turn, is resumed by freezing the gels at subzero temperatures, after water crystallization and consequent formation of an unfrozen microphase. The kinetic parameters of PVA crystallization during the permanence of these gels at subzero temperatures are the same shown by PVA during the first freezing step of the solutions. © 2008 American Chemical Society.


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