Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Mark D Dadmun

Committee Members

JJ Bozell, CS Feigerle, J Mays


Polymer nanocomposites are an important research interest in the area of engineering and functional materials, including the search for more environmentally materials for renewable energy and materials. The ability to analyze and optimize morphology is crucial to realizing their potential, since the distribution of materials in the composite strongly influences its properties. This dissertation presents research into three different polymer nanocomposite systems with three different applications that underscore the need to understand and control the composite morphology to succeed.

The first project details work on development of a copolymer compatibilizer to enhance the dispersion of the plant-derived biopolymer lignin in composite blends with polystyrene. The copolymer was designed with hydroxyl functionality that can form hydrogen bonds with lignin, and the effect of modulating the density of these groups was investigated, both on bulk dispersion and interfacial mixing.

The second project presented concerns resolving the interfacial morphology of composite bulk heterojunction organic photovoltaic devices based on a polythiophene-based photoactive polymer and a modified carbon fullerene, which are archetypical of the highest performing cells yet produced. Neutron reflectivity was extensively employed to probe the interfacial width and degree of intermixing between the components to elucidate the morphological impact on device performance.

The final project involves modifying nanoscale cellulose crystallites, dubbed nanowhiskers, by replacing a portion of the hydroxyl groups with acetate groups to improve their dispersion in polymethyl methacrylate. Neutron reflectivity was again employed to probe the interface between the two materials to observe and quantify intermixing.

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