Structural Investigation of Thermo-Responsive Poly(2-isopropyl-2-oxazoline) Hydrogel across the Volume Phase Transition


The deswelling and swelling behaviors of poly(2-isopropyl-2-oxazoline)-based hydrogel synthesized by a one-pot microwave-assisted solvent-free reaction were investigated. A distinct hydrophobic collapse of the hydrogel compared with the corresponding aqueous solution was observed by FT-IR spectroscopy combined with two-dimensional correlation spectroscopy (2DCOS) and perturbation–correlation moving-window (PCMW) analyses. The volume phase transition (VPT) temperature of 35 °C during heating and the transition temperature range of 41–30 °C during cooling were determined, indicating different dynamic transition mechanisms during heating and cooling. Water expulsion starting from the benzene ring-centered hydrophobic spots to the surroundings was revealed during deswelling. However, during swelling, although the rebuilding of cross-linking hydrogen bond bridges provided a channel-like microstructure to reswell the hydrogel gradually, a slow, unusual recovery of the amide hydrogen bonds to water molecules was observed.