Despite intense recent interest in weakly bound nonlinear (“exponential”) multilayers, the underlying structure-property relationships of these films are still poorly understood. This study explores the effect of time used for deposition of individual layers of nonlinearly growing layer-by-layer (LbL) films composed of poly(methacrylic acid) (PMAA) and quaternized poly-2-(dimethylamino)ethyl methacrylate (QPC) on film internal structure, swelling, and stability in salt solution, as well as the rate of penetration of invading polyelectrolyte chains. Thicknesses of dry and swollen films were measured by spectroscopic ellipsometry, film internal structure—by neutron reflectometry (NR), and degree of PMAA ionization—by Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). The results suggest that longer deposition times resulted in thicker films with higher degrees of swelling (up to swelling ratio as high as 4 compared to dry film thickness) and stronger film intermixing. The stronger intermixed films were more swollen in water, exhibited lower stability in salt solutions, and supported a faster penetration rate of invading polyelectrolyte chains. These results can be useful in designing polyelectrolyte nanoassemblies for biomedical applications, such as drug delivery coatings for medical implants or tissue engineering matrices.
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