Anindita Das, Miguel Garcia-Iglesias, Anja R. A. Palmans, Huub M. M. ten Eikelder, Ghislaine Vantomme, Albert J. Markvoort, E. W. Meijer
Supramolecular copolymers, non-covalent analogues of synthetic copolymers, constitute a new and promising class of polymers. In contrast to their covalent counterparts, the details of their mechanism of formation, as well as the factors determining their composition and length, are still poorly understood. Here, the supramolecular copolymerization between two slightly structurally different benzene-1,3,5-tricarboxamide (BTA) monomers functionalized with either oligodimethylsiloxane (oDMSi) or alkyl side chains is unraveled by combining experimental and theoretical approaches. By applying the “sergeant-and-soldiers” approach using circular dichroism (CD) experiments, we are able to obtain detailed insights into the structure and composition of these supramolecular copolymers. Moreover, we observe an unexpected chiral induction upon mixing two independently CD-silent solutions of the achiral (soldier) and chiral (sergeant) monomers. We find that the subtle differences in the chemical structure of the two monomers impact their homopolymerization mechanism: whereas alkyl-BTAs cooperatively self-assemble, oDMSi-BTAs self-assemble in an isodesmic manner. The effect of these mechanistic differences in the supramolecular copolymerization process is investigated as a function of the composition of the two monomers and explicitly rationalized by mathematical modeling. The results show that, at low fractions of oDMSi-BTA sergeants (<10 mol%), the polymerization process is cooperative and the supramolecular helicity is biased toward the helical preference of the sergeant. However, at higher fractions of oDMSi-BTA sergeant (>25 mol%), the isodesmic assembly of the increasing amounts of sergeant becomes more dominant, and different species start to coexist in the copolymerization process. The analysis of the experimental data with a newly developed theoretical model allows us to quantify the thermodynamic parameters, the distribution of different species, and the compositions and stack lengths of the formed supramolecular copolymers existing at various feed ratios of the two monomers.