Electric field induced morphological transitions in polyelectrolyte multilayers.
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In this work, the morphological transitions in weak polyelectrolyte (PE) multilayers (PEMs) assembled from linear poly(ethylene imine) (LPEI) and poly(acrylic acid) (PAA) upon application of an electric field were studied. Exposure to an electric field results in the creation of a porous structure, which can be ascribed to local changes in pH from the hydrolysis of water and subsequent structural rearrangements of the weak PE constituents. Depending on the duration of application of the field, the porous transition gradually develops into a range of structures and pore sizes. It was discovered that the morphological transition of the LbL films starts at the multilayer-electrode interface and propagates through the film. First an asymmetrical structure forms, consisting of microscaled pores near the electrode and nanoscaled pores near the surface in contact with the electrolyte solution. At longer application of the field the porous structures become microscaled throughout. The results revealed in this study not only demonstrate experimental feasibility for controlling variation in pore size and porosity of multilayer films but also deepens the understanding of the mechanism of the porous transition. In addition, electrical potential is used to release small molecules from the PEMs.