Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Polymer Science and Engineering

First Advisor

Alan J. Lesser

Second Advisor

Thomas J. McCarthy

Third Advisor

Henning H. Winter

Subject Categories

Polymer Science


The primary objective of this research is to investigate the morphological and mechanical properties of composite materials and porous materials prepared by thermally induced phase separation. High melting crystallizable diluents were mixed with polymers so that the phase separation would be induced by the solidification of the diluents upon cooling. Theoretical phase diagrams were calculated using Flory-Huggins solution thermodynamics which show good agreement with the experimental results. Porous materials were prepared by the extraction of the crystallized diluents after cooling the mixtures (hexamethylbenzene/polyethylene and pyrene/polyethylene). Anisotropic structures show strong dependence on the identity of the diluents and the composition of the mixtures. Anisotropic crystal growth of the diluents was studied in terms of thermodynamics and kinetics using DSC, optical microscopy and SEM. Microstructures of the porous materials were explained in terms of supercooling and dendritic solidification. Dual functionality of the crystallizable diluents for composite materials was evaluated using isotactic polypropylene (iPP) and compatible diluents that crystallize upon cooling. The selected diluents form homogeneous mixtures with iPP at high temperature and lower the viscosity (improved processability), which undergo phase separation upon cooling to form solid particles that function as a toughening agent at room temperature. Tensile properties and morphology of the composites showed that organic crystalline particles have the similar effect as rigid particles to increase toughness; de-wetting between the particle and iPP matrix occurs at the early stage of deformation, followed by unhindered plastic flow that consumes significant amount of fracture energy. The effect of the diluents, however, strongly depends on the identity of the diluents that interact with the iPP during solidification step, which was demonstrated by comparing tetrabromobisphenol-A and phthalic anhydride. A simple method to prepare composite surfaces that can change the wettability in response to the temperature change was proposed and evaluated. Composite surfaces prepared by nanoporous alumina templates filled with polymers showed surface morphology and wettability that depend on temperature. This effect is attributed to the significant difference in thermal conductivity and the thermal expansion coefficient between the alumina and the polymers. The reversibility in thermal response depends on the properties of the polymers.