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

H. Henning Winter

Subject Categories

Materials Science and Engineering


The primary objective of this research is to generate reinforcing domains in situ during the processing of polymers by using phase separation techniques. Low molecular weight compounds were mixed with polymers where the process viscosity is reduced at process temperatures and mechanical properties are improved once the material system is cooled or reacted. Thermally induced phase separation and thermotropic phase transformation of low molar mass compounds were used in isotactic polypropylene (iPP) and poly(ether ether ketone) (PEEK) resins. Reaction induced phase separation was utilized in thermosets to generate anisotropic reinforcements. A new strategy to increase fracture toughness of materials was introduced. Simultaneously, enhancement in stiffness and reduction in process viscosity were also attained. Materials with improved rheological and mechanical properties were prepared by using thermotropic phase transformations of metal soaps in polymers (calcium stearate/iPP). Morphology and thermal properties were studied using WAXS, DSC and SEM. Mechanical and rheological investigation showed significant reduction in process viscosity and substantial improvement in fracture toughness were attained. Effects of molecular architecture of metal soaps were investigated in PEEK (calcium stearate/PEEK and sodium stearate/PEEK). The selected compounds reduced the process viscosity due to the high temperature co-continuous morphology of metal soaps. Unlike the iPP system that incorporates spherical particles, interaction between PEEK and metal soaps resulted in two discrete and co-continuous phases of PEEK and the metal stearates. DMA and melt rheology exhibited that sodium stearate/PEEK composites are stiffer. Effective moduli of secondary metal stearate phase were calculated using different composite theories, which suggested bicontinuous morphology to the metal soaps in PEEK. Use of low molecular weight crystallizable solvents was investigated in reactive systems. Formation of anisotropic reinforcements was evaluated using dimethyl sulfone (DMS) as the crystallizable diluent and diglycidyl ether of bisphenol-A (DGEBA)/m-phenylene diamine (mPDA) material system as the epoxy thermoset. Miscible blends of DMS and DGEBA/mPDA form homogenous mixtures that undergo polymerization induced phase separation, once the DGEBA oligomers react with mPDA. The effect of the competition between the crystallization and phase separation of DMS resulted in nano-wires to micro-scale fiber-like crystals that were generated by adjusting the reaction temperature and DMS concentration.