Article révisé par les pairs
Résumé : We investigated the impact of irreversible adsorption on the mechanisms of thermal expansion of 1D confined polymer layers. For spincoated films (polystyrene on aluminum) of constant thickness, the thermal expansion coefficient of the melt drops upon annealing following the kinetics of irreversible adsorption of the chains onto the supporting substrate, while the thermal expansion of the glass is annealing invariant. These perturbations are explained in terms of the reduction in free volume content, upon immobilization of monomers onto the substrate. To shed more light on this phenomenon, we performed an extensive investigation of the thermal expansion of irreversibly adsorbed layers of polystyrene on silicon oxide. We verified that, contrarily to recent speculations, these films cannot be modeled as dead layers - immobilized slabs lacking of segmental relaxation. On the contrary, thin adsorbed layers show an increase in thermal expansion with respect to the bulk, due to packing frustration. Immobilization plays a role only when the thickness of the adsorbed layers overcomes ∼10 nm. Finally, we show that for adsorbed layers the difference in thermal expansion between the melt and the glass is sufficiently high to investigate the glass transition down to 3 nm. Owing to this unique feature, not shared by spincoated films, adsorbed layers are the perfect candidate to study the properties of extremely thin polymer films.