Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Mark D. Watson


Donor-acceptor conjugated polymers opened a new era for conjugated polymer research due to the abundant selection and combination of different conjugated units. This class of polymers function as semiconductor materials with potential application in plastic consumer electronics. The frontier molecular orbital energies of the polymers are generally determined by the selection of donor and acceptor units in the backbone structure, and their substituents. The side chains attached to the backbone not only affect the solubility of the materials, but also their self-assembly and morphological characteristics, which indirectly govern optoelectronic properties. It is important therefore to consider backbone architectures and the side chains together, to control (opto)-electronic properties for specific applications, while also maintaining solution processability without disrupting solid-state packing.

The research presented in this dissertation focuses largely on the side chains: how the bulk and position of side chains affect the (opto)-electronic properties of select donor-acceptor (D-A) conjugated polymers. More precisely the intent is to vary the size and position of branches in the alkyl side chains of donor-acceptor polymers, in the attempt to solubilize poorly soluble polymers, without disrupting self-assembly of the polymer backbones into close p-stacks. After an introductory chapter 1, chapter 2 mainly focuses on the synthesis and structure-property study of polymers with 2,3,5,6-tetrafluorobenzene (TFB) as the acceptor motif and benzo[1,2-b:4,5-b′]dithiophene (BDT) as donor units carrying solubilizing substituents. TFB units were chosen based on previous observations that this acceptor unit imparts particularly poor solubility to various donor-acceptor copolymers. The current study indicates that bulky branches placed close to the polymer backbone could solubilize the PBDTTFB copolymers without altering the absorption profile and oxidation potentials. Optical, wide-angle x-ray diffraction (WAXD) and solubility studies shows that solubility is closely related to branching size and position. As the branch size in increased, the solubility of these polymers undergoes a step-change.

The third chapter mainly focuses on the structure-property study of D-A polymers with thienopyrroledione (TPD) as acceptor. Unlike TFB, this acceptor can carry additional side chains that can compete with the space-filling demands of the donor unit side chains. As donor, the rigid BDT unit was compared with 3,3’-dialkoxy-2,2’bithiophene (RO2T2) units which have a similar size, but contain a “swiveling” central σ-bond. Bulkiness of side chains attached to the T2 units should be expected to have a more severe impact, possibly causing the two thiophene units of the T2 units to twist out of plane. It was demonstrated that alkoxy side chains with bulky branches in close proximity to the polymer backbones does not disrupt conjugation in these polymers. The UV-Vis absorption spectra of RO2T2-TPD polymers were red-shifted (more than 120 nm) in comparison to PBDTTPD polymers due to the smaller Eg (energy gap), which might be attributed to the expected higher energy HOMO imparted by the donor unit. The π-π stacking of polymers with BDT units was little affected by the bulky side chains. However, the π-π stacking of polymers with RO2T2 units was much more sensitive to side-chain bulk, with high degree of order and close π-π stacking only if proper local free spacing exists for side-chain interdigitation.

Chapter 4 reports efforts to study polymers from the same set of RO2T2 monomers studied in Chapter 3, but without acceptor units that might otherwise drive self-assembly. RO2T2 homopolymers were synthesized via the Grignard metathesis (GRIM) method. Further, copolymers were prepared with RO2T2 units alternating with thiophene, thieno[3,2-b]thiophene or bithiophene. The spectroscopic studies suggest these polymers with bulky side chains exhibit some varying level of backbone conjugation. Somewhat surprisingly, despite an expected decrease in the strength of intermolecular donor-acceptor interactions, the solubilities were in some cases low, but varied with volume fraction of side chains. Further, even for polymers that appear to easily dissolve, aggregation in solution is so extensive as to give ensembles “too large” for characterization by GPC and or solution NMR. Oxidation potentials seem essentially insensitive to any of the structural variables (governed mostly by the backbone RO2T2 units).

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Available for download on Thursday, May 09, 2019