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Optimisation of the Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope for Observation of Drying of Matt Water-Based Lacquers

C.P. Royall and A.M. Donald

Polymers and Colloids Group, Department of Physics, University of Cambridge, Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, U.K.

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Summary: Environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM) modifies conventional SEM through the use of a partial gas pressure in the microscope specimen chamber. Like conventional SEM, it has the resolution to image structure on the submicron lengthscale, but can also tolerate hydrated specimens if water vapour is used in the specimen chamber. This ability to image aqueous specimens leaves ESEM uniquely placed to study in situ drying in polymer latexes. However, there are two key practical difficulties associated with in situ drying. First, the size of the latex particles: larger latex particles are typically around 500 nm in diameter. Although ESEM can resolve structure on this lengthscale without difficulty, the magnification required results in radiation damage of the specimen due to the electron beam. This means that a given region can be imaged only once during film formation, so the evolution of particular features cannot be followed. Second, the change from ambient temperature and pressure to the ESEM conditions of 7°C and 7.5 torr (100 Pa) can subject the specimen to a very high evaporation rate, which can disrupt film formation. The inclusion of a drop of water in the specimen chamber is shown largely to alleviate this, enabling successful imaging of film formation in the lacquer. Instead of the polymer latex itself, this work concentrates on a matting lacquer with silica inclusions. The silica matting agent particles are 1­10 µm in size, allowing for a lower magnification to be used, massively reducing specimen damage. Furthermore, the contrast during drying is much enhanced in the presence of silica. The images reveal the silica as bright regions against a darker background of polymer and water. Film formation shows the transition from a uniform, featureless aqueous solution to a polymer film with silica particles present on the surface. The appearance of individual silica particles can be followed. The particles are generally revealed quite early, after a few minutes of drying time. As film formation progresses, these same particles appear larger and more distinct. Few new particles are revealed at longer film formation times.

Key words: environmental scanning electron microscope, latex, drying, hydrated

PACS: 68.37.-d, 68.37.Hk

C.P. Royall was supported by an EPSRC (Engineering and physical sciences research council) Studentship and a CASE award from Crosfield Group.