Coarse-grained simulations of the solution-phase self-assembly of poly(3-hexylthiophene) nanostructures

KN Schwarz and TW Kee and DM Huang, NANOSCALE, 5, 2017-2027 (2013).

DOI: 10.1039/c3nr33324h

Under certain conditions the conjugated polymer poly(3-hexylthiophene) (P3HT) self-assembles into high-aspect-ratio nanostructures (known as nanofibres, nanowires, or nanoribbons) when cooled below its solubility limit in a marginal solvent such as anisole. Such nanostructures are potentially beneficial for organic photovoltaic device performance. In this work, Langevin dynamics simulations of a coarse-grained model of P3HT in implicit anisole solvent are used to study the self-assembly of P3HT nanostructures for polymer chain lengths and concentrations used experimentally to prepare P3HT nanofibres. The coarse-grained model is parametrised to match the local structure and dynamics of an atomistic model with explicit solvent. Nanofibres are also prepared experimentally and characterised by atomic force microscopy and UV-vis spectroscopy. The simulations match the experimental phase behaviour of P3HT in anisole, showing aggregation of P3HT at 293 and 308 K but not at 323 or 353 K. Single-chain simulations at 293 K reveal two distinct nano-scale aggregate morphologies: hairpins and helices. Hairpin aggregates, which are the precursors of nanofibres, are slightly favoured energetically at 293 K for nuclei of the critical size of approximate to 80 monomers for aggregation. Consequently, chains in multi-chain aggregates adopt the hairpin morphology exclusively in simulations at experimental concentrations at 293 K. The simulated aggregate sizes match experimentally measured nanofibre widths. An estimate of the shift in UV-vis absorption of P3HT due to the change in conjugation length with aggregation in the simulations agrees reasonably well with experiment and shows that most of the spectral red shift that occurs with nanofibre formation is due to increased planarisation of the P3HT chains. In addition to providing insight into the mechanisms of nanofibre formation, the simulations resolve details of the molecular-level organisation of chains in P3HT nanofibres hitherto inaccessible by experiment.

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