Nanorod Assemblies in Polymer Films and Their Dispersion-Dependent Optical Properties
Optical absorption due to surface plasmon resonances in ensembles of gold nanorods (Au NRs) depends strongly on the nanorod separation and orientation. Here, we study the dispersion of polystyrene-functionalized Au NRs in polystyrene (PS) thin films using UV–visible (UV–vis) spectroscopy and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and find that Au NRs are dispersed for brush chain lengths that exceed the PS matrix chain length and are aggregated otherwise. Monte Carlo simulations using parameters from classical density functional theory (DFT) calculations indicate that this behavior is due to substantial depletion–attraction forces for brush chain lengths that are much smaller than the PS matrix chain length. Both UV–vis measurements and discrete dipole approximation (DDA) calculations confirm that optical absorption is a facile method to determine nanorod morphology in nanocomposite films (i.e., aggregation or dispersion). Futhermore, a dispersion map is constructed showing the conditions required for nanorod dispersion and, correspondingly, the optical absorption properties of Au NR:PS nanocomposites. Using this information, optically active materials with tunable morphologies can be fabricated and routinely characterized using optical spectroscopic methods.