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Thiol-Substituted Poly(2-oxazoline)s With Photolabile Protecting Groups—Tandem Network Formation By Light

Niklas Jung, Fiona Diehl, Ulrich Jonas

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Herein, we present a novel polymer architecture based on poly(2-oxazoline)s bearing protected thiol functionalities, which can be selectively liberated by irradiation with UV light. Whereas free thiol groups can suffer from oxidation or other spontaneous reactions that degrade polymer performance, this strategy with masked thiol groups offers the possibility of photodeprotection on demand with spatio-temporal control while maintaining polymer integrity. Here, we exploit this potential for a tandem network formation upon irradiation with UV light by thiol deprotection and concurrent crosslinking via thiol-ene coupling. The synthesis of the novel oxazoline monomer 2-{2-[(2-nitrobenzyl)thio]ethyl}-4,5-dihydrooxazole (NbMEtOxa) carrying 2-nitrobenzyl-shielded thiol groups and its cationic ring-opening copolymerization at varying ratios with 2-ethyl-2-oxazoline (EtOxa) is described. The tandem network formation was exemplarily demonstrated with the photoinitator 2-hydroxy-2-methylpropiophenone (HMPP) and pentaerythritol tetraacrylate (PETA), a commercially available, tetrafunctional vinyl crosslinker. The key findings of the conducted experiments indicate that a ratio of ~10% NbMEtOxa repeat units in the polymer backbone is sufficient for network formation and in-situ gelation in N,N-dimethylformamide.