Scalable Zwitterionic Polymer Brushes for Antifouling Membranes via Cu0-Mediated Atom Transfer Radical Polymerization

Allyson L. McGaughey, Sneha Srinivasan, Timothy Zhao, Kofi S.S. Christie, Zhiyong Jason Ren, Rodney D. Priestley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Polymer brush layers have attracted significant interest for versatile, controlled surface modification enabling fabrication and functionalization of membranes for water treatment and reuse applications. In particular, zwitterionic polymer brushes have been shown to provide strong resistance to organic fouling, oil fouling, biofouling, and inorganic fouling as membrane coatings for a variety of membrane processes. However, despite the demonstrated performance of polymer brush membranes, there are significant challenges associated with commercial scale-up of traditional fabrication methods. In this work, we demonstrate scalable grafting of zwitterionic polymer brushes from microfiltration membrane substrates under ambient conditions, and with low chemical consumption, for the first time, via Cu0-mediated surface-initiated atom transfer radical polymerization (Cu0-SI-ATRP). We demonstrate that Cu0-SI-ATRP is effective for brush grafting from porous membrane substrates, including samples of up to 150 cm2. Furthermore, we systematically investigate the effect of polymerization in confinement on brush growth kinetics and fouling resistance, using colloid probe force microscopy and dynamic fouling experiments. Results demonstrate that Cu0-SI-ATRP results in poly(sulfobetaine methacrylate) brush layers that significantly improve fouling resistance; however, polymerization methods significantly impact fouling resistance, for both Si wafer and membrane substrates. We identify polymerization methods that enhance fouling resistance even for thin brush layers. The results of this study provide pathways to the scalable fabrication and design of robust, antifouling membranes for applications in water treatment, water reuse, and resource recovery from waste streams.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4921-4932
Number of pages12
JournalACS Applied Polymer Materials
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 14 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Process Chemistry and Technology
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Organic Chemistry


  • Cu-mediated surface-initiated atom transfer radical polymerization
  • antifouling
  • membranes
  • polymer brushes
  • scalable fabrication
  • surface modification
  • zwitterionic


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