J Phys Chem Lett. 2020 Jun 18;11(12):4849-4858. doi: 10.1021/acs.jpclett.0c01318. Epub 2020 Jun 8.
Semicrystalline polymers constitute some of the most widely used materials in the world, and their functional properties are intimately connected to their structure on a range of length scales. Many of these properties depend on the micro- and nanoscale heterogeneous distribution of crystalline and amorphous phases, but this renders the interpretation of ensemble averaged measurements challenging. We use superlocalized widefield single-particle tracking in conjunction with AFM phase imaging to correlate the crystalline morphology of lithium-triflate-doped poly(ethylene oxide) thin films to the motion of individual fluorescent probes at the nanoscale. The results demonstrate that probe motion is intrinsically isotropic in amorphous regions and that, without altering this intrinsic diffusivity, closely spaced, often parallel, crystallite fibers anisotropically constrain probe motion along intercalating amorphous channels. This constraint is emphasized by the agreement between crystallite and anisotropic probe trajectory orientations. This constraint is also emphasized by the extent of the trajectory confinement correlated to the width of the measured gaps between adjacent crystallites. This study illustrates with direct nanoscale correlations how controlled and periodic arrangement of crystalline domains is a promising design principle for mass transport in semicrystalline polymer materials without compromising their mechanical stability.