The role of initiator on the dispersibility of poly(styrene) microgels in non-aqueous solvents

Jessica A Bonham*, Franceska Waggett, Malcolm A. Faers, Jeroen S Van Duijneveldt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
358 Downloads (Pure)


Non-aqueous microgel particles are commonly synthesised in water, dried, and then redispersed in non-aqueous solvents. An important factor to consider when synthesising such particles is the initiator, which can determine how well the particles disperse in solvents. Polystyrene microgel particles were made with three different initiators. When a neutral, oil soluble initiator (azobisisobutyronitrile) was used the particles dispersed in toluene as well as cyclohexane and decalin. In contrast, anionic, water-soluble initiators (potassium persulfate or azobis(4-cyanovaleric acid)) created particles that only redispersed in toluene and not the other two solvents. Of the three considered, toluene is the best solvent for polystyrene and also has the highest polarizability, making it most effective at redispersing particles with polar or ionisable functional groups. Zeta potential and conductivity measurements, however, did not detect a direct relationship between particle charging and redispersibility. Oil soluble initiators result in “inside out” polymerisation where the initiator groups are buried inside the growing particle, whereas water-soluble initiators result in “outside in” polymerisation, with the polar initiator groups residing on the particle surface. By tailoring the ratio between water and oil soluble initiators, it may be possible to synthesise microgel particles with uniform or designed charge profiles from the core to the surface.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)479-486
Number of pages8
JournalColloid and Polymer Science
Issue number3
Early online date7 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


  • Colloid
  • Polymer
  • Microgel
  • Initiator
  • Swelling


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