We investigated the dewetting of metastable poly(N-vinylpyrrolidone) (PNVP) thin films (45 nm) on top of polystyrene (PS) thin films (58 nm) as a function of annealing temperature and molecular weight of PS (96 and 6850 kg/mol). We focused on the competition between dewetting, occurring as a result of unfavorable intermolecular interactions at the PNVP/PS interface, and spontaneous cross-linking of PNVP, occurring during thermal annealing, as we recently reported (Telford, A. M.; James, M.; Meagher, L.; Neto, C. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces2010, 2, 2399-2408). Using optical microscopy, we studied how the dewetting morphology and dynamics at different temperatures depended on the relative viscosity of the top PNVP film, which increased with cross-linking time, and of the bottom PS film. In the PNVP/PS96K system, cross-linking dominated over dewetting at temperatures below 180 °C, reducing drastically nucleated hole density and their maximum size, while above 180 °C the two processes reversed, with complete dewetting occurring at 200 °C. On the other hand, the PNVP/PS6850K system never achieved advanced dewetting stages as the dewetting was slower than cross-linking in the investigated temperature range. In both systems, dewetting of the PNVP films could be avoided altogether by thermally annealing the bilayers at temperatures where cross-linking dominated. The cross-linking was characterized quantitatively using neutron reflectometry, which indicated shrinkage and densification of the PNVP film, and qualitatively through selective removal of the bottom PS film. A simple model accounting for progressive cross-linking during the dewetting process predicted well the observed hole growth profiles and produced estimates of the PNVP cross-linking rate coefficients and of the activation energy of the process, in good agreement with literature values for similar systems.
Telford, A.M., S.C. Thickett, M. James, C. Neto