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  1. The tunable properties of thermoplastic elastomers (TPEs), through polymer chemistry manipulations, enable these technologically critical materials to be employed in a broad range of applications. The need to “dial-in” the mechanical properties and responses of TPEs generally requires the design and synthesis of new macromolecules. In these designs, TPEs with nonlinear macromolecular architectures outperform the mechanical properties of their linear copolymer counterparts, but the differences in deformation mechanism providing enhanced performance are unknown. Here, in situ small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) measurements during uniaxial extension reveal distinct deformation mechanisms between a commercially available linear poly(styrene)-poly(butadiene)-poly(styrene) (SBS) triblock copolymer and the grafted SBS version containing grafted poly(styrene) (PS) chains from the poly(butadiene) (PBD) mid-block. The neat SBS (φSBS = 100%) sample deforms congruently with the macroscopic dimensions with the domain spacing between spheres increasing and decreasing along and traverse to the stretch direction, respectively. At high extensions, end segment pullout from the PS-rich domains is detected, which is indicated by a disordering of SBS. Conversely, the PS-grafted SBS that is 30 vol% SBS and 70% styrene (φSBS = 30%) exhibits a lamellar morphology and in situ SAXS measurements reveal an unexpected deformation mechanism. During deformation there are two simultaneous processes: significant lamellar domain rearrangement to preferentially orient the lamellae planes parallel to the stretch direction and crazing. The samples whiten at high strains as expected for crazing, which corresponds with the emergence of features in the two-dimensional SAXS pattern during stretching consistent with fibril-like structures that bridge the voids in crazes. The significant domain rearrangement in the grafted copolymers is attributed to the new junctions formed across multiple PS domains by the grafts of a single chain. The in situ SAXS measurements provide insights into the enhanced mechanical properties of grafted copolymers that arise through improved physical crosslinking that leads to nanostructured domain reorientation for self-reinforcement and craze formation where fibrils help to strengthen the polymer. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 20, 2024
  2. Among all ferroelectric polymers, poly(vinylidene fluoride) (PVDF)-based polymers exhibit the best piezoelectric properties and thus are promising for sensors, actuators, and energy harvesters in flexible/wearable electronics and soft robotics. Despite decades of research effort, the structure-property relationship is still unclear for ferroelectric polymers, and their piezoelectric performance is often limited to ~30 pC/N. In this study, we report the effects of chemical defects [i.e., the head-to-head and tail-to-tail (HHTT) sequence] and high-power ultrasonication on the piezoelectric performance of PVDF. Two PVDF homopolymers with different HHTT contents were studied. The PVDF with a lower HHTT content (4.3%) exhibited a higher melting temperature (Tm, denoted as HMT), whereas that with a higher HHTT content (5.9%) exhibited a lower Tm (denoted as LMT). In addition to the primary crystals (PCs) and the isotropic amorphous fraction, wide-angle X-ray diffraction also suggested the presence of the oriented amorphous fraction (OAF) and secondary crystals (SCs), which are important in enhancing the piezoelectricity for PVDF. Intriguingly, the LMT PVDF exhibited higher piezoelectric performance than the HMT PVDF, because it had a higher OAF/SC content. In addition, high-power ultrasonication was shown to effectively break relaxor-like SCs off from the PCs, further enhancing the piezoelectric performance. That is, the inverse piezoelectric coefficient d31 reached as high as 76.2 pm/V at 65 °C for the ultrasonicated LMT PVDF. The insight from this study will enable us to design better piezoelectric PVDF polymers for practical electromechanical applications. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 1, 2024
  3. The vast chemical space of emerging semiconductors, like metal halide perovskites, and their varied requirements for semiconductor applications have rendered trial-and-error environmentally unsustainable. In this work, we demonstrate RoboMapper, a materials acceleration platform (MAP), that achieves 10-fold research acceleration by formulating and palletizing semiconductors on a chip, thereby allowing high-throughput (HT) measurements to generate quantitative structure-property relationships (QSPRs) considerably more efficiently and sustainably. We leverage the RoboMapper to construct QSPR maps for the mixed ion FA 1-y Cs y Pb(I 1-x Br x ) 3 halide perovskite in terms of structure, bandgap, and photostability with respect to its composition. We identify wide-bandgap alloys suitable for perovskite-Si hybrid tandem solar cells exhibiting a pure cubic perovskite phase with favorable defect chemistry while achieving superior stability at the target bandgap of 1.7 eV. RoboMapper’s palletization strategy reduces environmental impacts of data generation in materials research by more than an order of magnitude, paving the way for sustainable data-driven materials research. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 1, 2024
  4. The self-assembly of shape-anisotropic nanocrystals into large-scale structures is a versatile and scalable approach to creating multifunctional materials. The tetrahedral geometry is ubiquitous in natural and manmade materials, yet regular tetrahedra present a formidable challenge in understanding their self-assembly behavior as they do not tile space. Here, we report diverse supracrystals from gold nanotetrahedra including the quasicrystal (QC) and the dimer packing predicted more than a decade ago and hitherto unknown phases. We solve the complex three-dimensional (3D) structure of the QC by a combination of electron microscopy, tomography, and synchrotron X-ray scattering. Nanotetrahedron vertex sharpness, surface ligands, and assembly conditions work in concert to regulate supracrystal structure. We also discover that the surface curvature of supracrystals can induce structural changes of the QC tiling and eventually, for small supracrystals with high curvature, stabilize a hexagonal approximant. Our findings bridge the gap between computational design and experimental realization of soft matter assemblies and demonstrate the importance of accurate control over nanocrystal attributes and the assembly conditions to realize increasingly complex nanopolyhedron supracrystals. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 3, 2024
  5. Although high piezoelectric coefficients have recently been observed in poly(vinylidene fluoride- co -trifluoroethylene) [P(VDF-TrFE)] random copolymers, they have low Curie temperatures, which makes their piezoelectricity thermally unstable. It has been challenging to achieve high piezoelectric performance from the more thermally stable PVDF homopolymer. In this report, we describe how high-power ultrasonic processing was used to induce a hard-to-soft piezoelectric transition and improve the piezoelectric coefficient d 31 in neat PVDF. After high-power ultrasonication for 20 min, a uniaxially stretched and poled PVDF film exhibited a high d 31 of 50.2 ± 1.7 pm V −1 at room temperature. Upon heating to 65 °C, the d 31 increased to a maximum value of 76.2 ± 1.2 pm V −1 , and the high piezoelectric performance persisted up to 110 °C. The enhanced piezoelectricity was attributed to the relaxor-like secondary crystals in the oriented amorphous fraction, broken off from the primary crystals by ultrasonication, as suggested by differential scanning calorimetry and broadband dielectric spectroscopy studies. 
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