Hydrogels based on poly(2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate) (PHEMA) are a very important class of biomaterials with several applications mainly in tissue engineering and contacts lenses. Although the polymerization kinetics of HEMA have been investigated in the literature, the development of a model, accounting for both the chemical reaction mechanism and diffusion-controlled phenomena and valid over the whole conversion range, has not appeared so far. Moreover, research on the synthesis of nanocomposite materials based on a polymer matrix has grown rapidly recently because of the improved mechanical, thermal and physical properties provided by the polymer. In this framework, the objective of this research is two-fold: to provide a kinetic model for the polymerization of HEMA with accurate estimations of the kinetic and diffusional parameters employed and to investigate the effect of adding various types and amounts of nano-additives to the polymerization rate. In the first part, experimental data are provided from Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC) measurements on the variation of the reaction rate with time at several polymerization temperatures. These data are used to accurately evaluate the kinetic rate constants and diffusion-controlled parameters. In the second part, nanocomposites of PHEMA are formed, and the in situ bulk radical polymerization kinetics is investigated with DSC. It was found that the inclusion of nano-montmorillonite results in a slight enhancement of the polymerization rate, while the inverse holds when adding nano-silica. These results are interpreted in terms of noncovalent interactions, such as hydrogen bonding between the monomer and polymer or the nano-additive. X-Ray Diffraction (XRD) and Fourier Transform Infra-Red (FTIR) measurements were carried out to verify the results.
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