Hydrophilic Aldehyde-Functional Polymer Brushes: Synthesis, Characterization, and Potential Bioapplications

Products / materials used
publication date
February 22, 2023
page number


Brotherton, E.E., Johnson, E.C., Smallridge, M.J., Hammond, D.B., Leggett, G.J. and Armes, S.P., 2023. Hydrophilic Aldehyde-Functional Polymer Brushes: Synthesis, Characterization, and Potential Bioapplications. Macromolecules, 56(5), pp.2070-2080.

PI-KEM Product referenced:

Silicon wafers (100)


Surface-initiated activators regenerated by electron transfer atom transfer radical polymerization (ARGET ATRP) is used to polymerize a cis-diol-functional methacrylic monomer (herein denoted GEO5MA) from planar silicon wafers. Ellipsometry studies indicated dry brush thicknesses ranging from 40 to 120 nm. The hydrophilic PGEO5MA brush is then selectively oxidized using sodium periodate to produce an aldehyde-functional hydrophilic PAGEO5MA brush. This post-polymerization modification strategy provides access to significantly thicker brushes compared to those obtained by surface-initiated ARGET ATRP of the corresponding aldehyde-functional methacrylic monomer (AGEO5MA). The much slower brush growth achieved in the latter case is attributed to the relatively low aqueous solubility of the AGEO5MA monomer. X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) analysis confirmed that precursor PGEO5MA brushes were essentially fully oxidized to the corresponding PAGEO5MA brushes within 30 min of exposure to a dilute aqueous solution of sodium periodate at 22 °C. PAGEO5MA brushes were then functionalized via Schiff base chemistry using an amino acid (histidine), followed by reductive amination with sodium cyanoborohydride. Subsequent XPS analysis indicated that the mean degree of histidine functionalization achieved under optimized conditions was approximately 81%. Moreover, an XPS depth profiling experiment confirmed that the histidine groups were uniformly distributed throughout the brush layer. Surface ζ potential measurements indicated a significant change in the electrophoretic behavior of the zwitterionic histidine-functionalized brush relative to that of the non-ionic PGEO5MA precursor brush. The former brush exhibited cationic character at low pH and anionic character at high pH, with an isoelectric point being observed at around pH 7. Finally, quartz crystal microbalance studies indicated minimal adsorption of a model globular protein (BSA) on a PGEO5MA brush-coated substrate, whereas strong protein adsorption via Schiff base chemistry occurred on a PAGEO5MA brush-coated substrate.


Silicon wafers, Polymer brushes, surface lubrication, bio-sensors, stimulus-responsive


Emma E. Brotherton 1 Edwin C. Johnson 1, Mark J. Smallridge 2, Deborah B. Hammond 1, Graham J. Leggett 1, and Steven P. Armes1

Organisation / Department Address:

  1. Dainton Building, Department of Chemistry, The University of Sheffield, Brook Hill, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S3 7HF, U.K.          
  2. GEO Specialty Chemicals, Hythe, Southampton, Hampshire SO45 3ZG, U.K.