Critical Role of Surface Energy in Guiding Crystallization of Solution-Coated Conjugated Polymer Thin Films

Fengjiao Zhang, Erfan Mohammadi, Xuyi Luo, Joseph Strzalka, Jianguo Mei, Ying Diao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is well-known that substrate surface properties have a profound impact on the morphology of thin films solution coated atop and the resulting solid-state properties. However, design rules for guiding the substrate selection have not yet been established. Such design rules are particularly important for solution-coated semiconducting polymers, as the substrate-directed thin film morphology can impact charge transport properties by orders of magnitude. We hypothesize that substrate surface energies dictate the thin film morphology by modulating the free energy barrier to heterogeneous nucleation. To test this hypothesis, we systematically vary the substrate surface energy via surface functionalization techniques. We perform in-depth morphology and device characterizations to establish the relationship between substrate surface energy, thin film morphology and charge transport properties, employing donor-acceptor (D-A) conjugated polymers. We find that decreasing the substrate surface energy progressively increases thin film crystallinity, degree of molecular ordering, and extent of domain alignment. Notably, the enhanced morphology on the lowest surface energy substrate leads to a 10-fold increase in the charge carrier mobility. We further develop a free energy model relating the substrate surface energy to the penalty of heterogeneous nucleation from solution in the thin film geometry. The model correctly predicts the experimental trend, thereby validating our hypothesis. This work is a significant step toward establishing design rules and understanding the critical role of substrates in determining morphology of solution-coated thin films.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1109-1122
Number of pages14
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 23 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Surfaces and Interfaces
  • Spectroscopy
  • Electrochemistry

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