The role of polymer (poly(vinylamine)) size (238-11000 units) on silicic acid condensation to yield soluble nanoparticles or composite precipitates has been explored by a combination of light scattering (static and dynamic), laser ablation combined with aerosol spectrometry, IR spectroscopy, and electron microscopy. Soluble nanoparticles or composite precipitates are formed according to the degree of polymerization of the organic polymer and pH. Nanoparticles prepared in the presence of the highest molecular weight polymers have core-shell like structures with dense silica cores. Composite particles formed in the presence of polymers with extent of polymerization below 1000 consist of associates of several polymer-silica nanoparticles. The mechanism of stabilization of the "soluble" silica particles in the tens of nanometer size range involves cooperative interactions with the polymer chains which varies according to chain length and pH. An example of the use of such polymer-poly(silicic acid) nanoparticles in the generation of composite polymeric materials is presented. The results obtained have relevance to the biomimetic design of new composite materials based on silica and polymers and to increasing our understanding of how silica may be manipulated (stored) in the biological environment prior to the formation of stable mineralized structures. We suspect that a similar method of storing silicic acid in an active state is used in silicifying organisms, at least in diatom algae.
- long-chain polyamines
- composite materials