Insights into the Kinetics of Supramolecular Comonomer Incorporation in Water

René P. M. Lafleur, Sandra M. C. Schoenmakers, Pranav Madhikar, Davide Bochicchio, Björn Baumeier, Anja R. A. Palmans, Giovanni M. Pavan, and E. W. Meijer, Macromolecules 52 (8) :3049 (2019).


Multicomponent supramolecular polymers are a versatile platform to prepare functional architectures, but a few studies have been devoted to investigate their noncovalent synthesis. Here, we study supramolecular copolymerizations by examining the mechanism and time scales associated with the incorporation of new monomers in benzene-1,3,5-tricarboxamide (BTA)-based supramolecular polymers. The BTA molecules in this study all contain three tetra(ethylene glycol) chains at the periphery for water solubility but differ in their alkyl chains that feature either 10, 12 or 13 methylene units. C10BTA does not form ordered supramolecular assemblies, whereas C12BTA and C13BTA both form high aspect ratio supramolecular polymers. First, we illustrate that C10BTA can mix into the supramolecular polymers based on either C12BTA or C13BTA by comparing the temperature response of the equilibrated mixtures to the temperature response of the individual components in water. Subsequently, we mix C10BTA with the polymers and follow the copolymerization over time with UV spectroscopy and hydrogen/deuterium exchange mass spectrometry experiments. Interestingly, the time scales obtained in both experiments reveal significant differences in the rates of copolymerization. Coarse-grained simulations are used to study the incorporation pathway and kinetics of the C10BTA monomers into the different polymers. The results demonstrate that the kinetic stability of the host supramolecular polymer controls the rate at which new monomers can enter the existing supramolecular polymers.