Stimuli-Responsive Zwitterionic Core-Shell Microgels for Antifouling Surface Coatings

Pabitra Saha, Marta Santi, Meike Emondts, Hannah Roth, Khosrow Rahimi, Johannes Grosskurth, Ritabrata Ganguly, Matthias Wessling*, Nikhil K. Singha*, Andrij Pich*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Fouling on filtration membranes is induced by the nonspecific interactions between the membrane surface and the foulants, and effectively hinders their efficient use in various applications. Here, we established a facile method for the coating of membrane surface with a dual stimuli-responsive antifouling microgel system enriched with a high polyzwitterion content. Different poly(sulfobetaine) (PSB) zwitterionic polymers with defined molecular weights and narrow dispersities were synthesized by reversible addition-fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) polymerization and integrated onto poly(N-vinylcaprolactam) (PVCL) microgels via a controlled dosage of a cross-linker, adapting a precipitation polymerization technique to obtain a core-shell microstructure. Increasing the PSB macro-RAFT concentration resulted in a shift of both upper critical solution temperature and lower critical solution temperature toward higher temperatures. Cryogenic transmission electron microscopy at different temperatures suggested the formation of a core-shell morphology with a PVCL-rich core and a PSB-rich shell. On the other hand, the significant variations of different characteristic proton signals and reversible phase transitions of the microgel constituents were confirmed by temperature-dependent 1H NMR studies. Utilizing a quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation monitoring, we have been able to observe and quantitatively describe the antipolyelectrolyte behavior of the zwitterionic microgels. The oscillation frequency of the sensor proved to change reversibly according to the variations of the NaCl concentration, showing, in fact, the effect of the interaction between the salt and the opposite charges present in the microgel deposited on the sensor. Poly(ethersulfone) membranes, chosen as the model surface, when functionalized with zwitterionic microgel coatings, displayed protein-repelling property, stimulated by different transition temperatures, and showed even better performances at increasing NaCl concentration. These kinds of stimuli-responsive zwitterionic microgel can act as temperature-triggered drug delivery systems and as potential coating materials to prevent bioadhesion and biofouling as well.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58223-58238
Number of pages16
JournalACS Applied Materials & Interfaces
Issue number52
Publication statusPublished - 30 Dec 2020


  • microgel
  • polyzwitterion
  • antipolyelectrolyte
  • antifouling
  • membrane coating
  • UCST

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