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Cloud point driven interaction and relaxation dynamics of aqueous solutions of amphiphilic thermoresponsive copolymers were explored through picosecond resolved and steady state fluorescence measurements employing hydrophilic (coumarin 343, C343) and hydrophobic (coumarin 153, C153) solute probes of comparable sizes. These thermoresponsive random copolymers, with tuneable cloud point temperatures (Tcp) between 298 K and 323 K, were rationally designed first and then synthesized via reversible addition-fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) copolymerization of methyl methacrylate (MMA) and poly(ethylene glycol) monomethyl ether methacrylate (PEGMA). Subsequently, copolymers were characterised by NMR spectroscopy and size exclusion chromatography (SEC). A balance between the hydrophilic (PEGMA) and the hydrophobic (MMA) content dictates the critical aggregation concentration (CAC), with CAC ~2-14 mg/L for these copolymers in aqueous media. No abrupt changes in the steady state spectral features of both C153 and C343 in the aqueous solutions of these polymers near but below the cloud point temperatures (Tcp) were observed. Interestingly, spectral properties of C153 in these solutions show the impact of hydrophobic/hydrophilic interaction balance but not by those of C343. More specifically, C153 reported blue-shift (relative to that in neat water) and heterogeneity in its local environment. This suggested different locations for the hydrophilic (C343) and the hydrophobic (C153) probes. In addition, excited state fluorescence lifetime (< >) of C153 increased with the increase of hydrophobic (MMA) content in these copolymers. However, C343 reported no such variations, although fluorescence anisotropy decays for both the solutes were significantly slowed down in these aqueous solutions compared to neat water. Anisotropy decays indicated bimodal time-dependent friction for these solutes in aqueous solutions of these copolymers but mono-modal in neat water. A linear dependence of the average rotational relaxation rates ( ) of the type, with negative values for the exponent γ, was observed for both the solutes. No slowing down of the solute rotation with temperature approaching the Tcp was detected; rather, rotation became faster upon increasing the solution temperature, suggesting domination of the local friction.
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Name: The journal of physical chemistry. B
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