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Cross-linking inhomogeneity in nano-composite hydrogels can be observed as sharp peaks by SAXS experiments under elongation


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      We introduced silica nanoparticles into poly (\(N\),\(N\)-dimethylacrylamide) gel, (PDAM-NC gel), and poly (acrylamide) gel (PAM-NC gel), and carried out SAXS measurements under uniaxial elongation. It is well known that PDAM chains are strongly adsorbed onto silica nanoparticles while PAM chains are not. Interestingly, we found from SAXS measurements that scattering profiles depend on the polymer-nanoparticle interaction. A four-spot pattern was observed in the 2D structure factors of PDAM-NC gel, which was assigned to a movement of the nanoparticles affinely under elongation. However, unexpectedly, we observed sharp peaks in the 2D structure factors of PAM-NC gel in the parallel direction to the stretching. These peaks appeared in much lower-\(q\) region than the theoretical prediction of affine deformation of nanoparticles. We conjecture that these peaks do not correspond to the correlation of individual particles but to the correlation of high cross-linking regions because the interaction between PAM chains and silica nanoparticles is relatively weak and the displacements of silica nanoparticles are sensitive to spatial cross-linking inhomogeneity.

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