Nanophotonics (Jan 2024)

Light-induced modulation of viscoelastic properties in azobenzene polymers

  • Chiodini Stefano,
  • Borbone Fabio,
  • Oscurato Stefano L.,
  • Garcia Pablo D.,
  • Ambrosio Antonio

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 13, no. 2
pp. 229 – 238


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Photo-induced isomerization of azobenzene molecules drives mass migrations in azopolymer samples. The resulting macroscopic directional photo-deformation of the material morphology has found many applications in literature, although the fundamental mechanisms behind this mass transfer are still under debate. Hence, it is of paramount importance to find quantitative observables that could drive the community toward a better understanding of this phenomenon. In this regard, azopolymer mechanical properties have been intensively studied, but the lack of a nanoscale technique capable of quantitative viscoelastic measurements has delayed the progress in the field. Here, we use bimodal atomic force microscopy (AFM) as a powerful technique for nanomechanical characterizations of azopolymers. With this multifrequency AFM approach, we map the azopolymer local elasticity and viscosity, with high resolution, after irradiation. We find that, while in the (previously) illuminated region, a general photo-softening is measured; locally, the Young modulus and the viscosity depend upon the inner structuring of the illuminating light spot. We then propose a possible interpretation based on a light-induced expansion plus a local alignment of the polymer chains (directional hole-burning effect), which explains the experimental observations. The possibility to access, in a reliable and quantitative way, both Young modulus and viscosity could trigger new theoretical–numerical investigations on the azopolymer mass migration dynamics since, as we show, both parameters can be considered measurable. Furthermore, our results provide a route for engineering the nanomechanical properties of azopolymers, which could find interesting applications in cell mechanobiology research.