Understanding Solution State Conformation and Aggregate Structure of Conjugated Polymers via Small Angle X-ray Scattering



Donor-acceptor (D-A) conjugated polymers are high-performance organic electronic materials that exhibit complex aggregation behavior. Understanding the solution state conformation and aggregation of conjugated polymers is crucial for controlling morphology during thin-film deposition and the subsequent electronic performance. However, a precise multiscale structure of solution state aggregates is lacking. Here, we present an in-depth small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) analysis of the solution state structure of an isoindigo-bithiophene based D-A polymer (PII-2T) as our primary system. Modeling the system as a combination of hierarchical fibrillar aggregates mixed with dispersed polymers, we extract information about conformation and multiscale aggregation and also clarify the physical origin of features often observed but unaddressed or misinterpreted in small-angle scattering patterns of conjugated polymers. The persistence length of the D-A polymer extracted from SAXS agrees well with a theoretical model based on the dihedral potentials. Additionally, we show that the broad high q structure factor peak seen in scattering profiles can be attributed to lamellar stacking occurring within the fibril aggregates and that the low q aggregate scattering is strongly influenced by the polymer molecular weight. Overall, the SAXS profiles of D-A polymers in general exhibit a sensitive dependence on the co-existence of fibrillar aggregate and dispersed polymer chain populations. We corroborate our findings from SAXS with electron microscopy of freeze-dried samples for direct imaging of fibrillar aggregates. Finally, we demonstrate the generality of our approach by fitting the scattering profiles of a variety of D-A polymers. The results presented here establish a picture of the D-A polymer solution state structure and provide a general method of interpreting and analyzing their scattering profiles.


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SasView Model Files
Custom SasView model files used in this work to fit scattering from conjugated polymer aggregation