Time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) is a versatile surface-sensitive technique for characterizing both hard and soft matter. Its chemical and molecular specificity, high spatial resolution, and superior sensitivity make it an ideal method for depth profiling polymeric systems, including those comprised of both inorganic and organic constituents (i.e., polymer nanocomposites, PNCs). To best utilize ToF-SIMS for characterizing PNCs, experimental conditions must be optimized to minimize challenges such as the matrix effect and charge accumulation. Toward that end, we have successfully used ToF-SIMS with a Xe+ focused ion beam to depth profile silica nanoparticles grafted with poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA-NP) in a poly(styrene-ran-acrylonitrile) matrix film by selecting conditions that address charge compensation and the primary incident beam angles. By tracking the sputtered Si+ species and fitting the resultant concentration profile, the diffusion coefficient of PMMA-NP was determined to be D = 2.4 × 10−14 cm2/s. This value of D lies between that measured using Rutherford backscattering spectrometry (6.4 × 10−14 cm2/s) and the value predicted by the Stokes–Einstein model (2.5 × 10−15 cm2/s). With carefully tuned experimental parameters, ToF-SIMS holds great potential for quantitatively characterizing the nanoparticles at the surfaces and interfaces within PNC materials as well as soft matter in general.
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