Detailed experiments designed to optimize and understand the solvent vapor annealing of cylinder-forming poly(styrene)-block-poly(lactide) thin films for nanolithographic applications are reported. By combining climate-controlled solvent vapor annealing (including in situ probes of solvent concentration) with comparative small-angle X-ray scattering studies of solvent-swollen bulk polymers of identical composition, it is concluded that a narrow window of optimal solvent concentration occurs just on the ordered side of the order-disorder transition. In this window, the lateral correlation length of the hexagonally close-packed ordering, the defect density, and the cylinder orientation are simultaneously optimized, resulting in single-crystal-like ordering over 10 μm scales. The influences of polymer synthesis method, composition, molar mass, solvent vapor pressure, evaporation rate, and film thickness have all been assessed, confirming the generality of this behavior. Analogies to thermal annealing of elemental solids, in combination with an understanding of the effects of process parameters on annealing conditions, enable qualitative understanding of many of the key results and underscore the likely generality of the main conclusions. Pattern transfer via a Damascene-type approach verified the applicability for high-fidelity nanolithography, yielding large-area metal nanodot arrays with center-to-center spacing of 38 nm (diameter 19 nm). Finally, the predictive power of our findings was demonstrated by using small-angle X-ray scattering to predict optimal solvent annealing conditions for poly(styrene)-block-poly(lactide) films of low molar mass (18 kg mol-1). High-quality templates with cylinder center-to-center spacing of only 18 nm (diameter of 10 nm) were obtained. These comprehensive results have clear and important implications for optimization of pattern transfer templates and significantly advance the understanding of self-assembly in block copolymer thin films.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Materials Science(all)