L.B. Zhang, Z.H. Zhang, P. Wang
NPG Asia Materials, 4, e8, (2012)
Advanced materials with surfaces that have controllable oil wettability when submerged in aqueous media have great potential for various underwater applications. Here we have developed smart surfaces on commonly used materials, including non-woven textiles and polyurethane sponges, which are able to switch between superoleophilicity and superoleophobicity in aqueous media. The smart surfaces are obtained by grafting a block copolymer, comprising blocks of pH-responsive poly(2-vinylpyridine) and oleophilic/hydrophobic polydimethylsiloxane (i.e., P2VP-b-PDMS) on these materials. The P2VP block can alter its wettability and its conformation via protonation and deprotonation in response to the pH of the aqueous media, which provides controllable and switchable access of oil by the PDMS block, resulting in the switchable surface oil wettability in the aqueous media. On the other hand, the high flexibility of the PDMS block facilitates the reversible switching of the surface oil wettability. As a proof of concept, we also demonstrate that materials functionalized with our smart surfaces can be used for highly controllable oil/water separation processes.