NMR of Polymers by Frank A. Bovey and Peter A. Mirau by Frank A. Bovey and Peter A. Mirau - Read Online

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NMR of Polymers - Frank A. Bovey

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Over the past three decades, NMR spectroscopy has emerged as one of the most important methods for polymer characterization. In the early history, high resolution solution NMR spectra played a key role in characterizing polymer microstructure and in understanding polymerization mechanisms. More recently, solid-state NMR has been developed and used to probe the structure, conformation, organization, and dynamics of polymers in their native state. In fact, the solid-state characterization of polymers is such an important topic that it has driven the development of new solid-state NMR methods. A further revolution occurred with the introduction of multidimensional NMR, making it possible to observe polymers with much higher resolution, leading to a more detailed understanding of polymer microstructure and to the molecular level assignments of the dynamics that have long been measured by dielectric and dynamic mechanical spectroscopy. The current importance of NMR in polymer characterization can be judged from the many papers published in polymer science that rely on NMR to elucidate the properties of polymers.

The goal of this book is to provide an overview of the applications of NMR to polymer characterization. The book begins with a review of the fundamental principles in Chapter 1 and polymer structure in Chapter 2. The high resolution solution state NMR of polymers is presented in Chapter 3 and includes multinuclear NMR studies and the two-dimensional NMR methods used to study polymer microstructure, chain conformation, and the structure of associating polymers. The solid-state NMR of polymers is presented in Chapter 4 and includes NMR determination of chain conformation in semicrystalline and amorphous polymers, polymer blends, and multiphase polymer systems, as well as the NMR methods used to study chain organization on longer length scales. The molecular dynamics of polymers is covered in Chapter 5, where the methods used to study polymer dynamics both in solution and in the solid state are presented. Included in this chapter are the wideline and multidimensional NMR methods that have been used to relate the transitions measured by other spectroscopies to the chain dynamics at the atomic level.

This book is intended for academic and industrial researchers and does not reference all the data collected on the NMR of polymers. It does, however, illustrate the types of problems in polymer science that can be solved by NMR spectroscopy. In certain instances it is most instructive to show the data from some of the early, classic experiments in polymer NMR, while in other cases experiments from the most current literature are provided.




NMR spectroscopy is a method of great interest and importance for the observation of every aspect of the structure and properties of macromolecular substances. The first studies were reported by Alpert (1) only about a year after the discovery of nuclear resonance in bulk matter (2,3). It was observed that natural rubber at room temperature gives a proton linewidth more like that of a mobile liquid than of a solid, but that the resonance broadens markedly at temperatures approaching that (ca. −70°C) now known as the glass temperature. These phenomena were recognized as being related to the presence (and cessation) of micro-Brownian motion. We shall relate these matters in more detail when we deal with the vital topic of polymer NMR in the solid state. For the present we note that this field was well developed before high-resolution spectra of synthetic polymers in solution were first reported by Saunder and Wishnia (4), Odajima (5), and Bovey et al. (6). From today’s perspective it is difficult to understand why the observation of such spectra was so long delayed, especially since the NMR spectroscopy of small molecules was in an advanced state. It appears that solution spectra were generally expected to be very complex and to exhibit resonances too broad to be usefully interpreted. As we shall see, such fears were in general not well founded. Modern instrumental methods have made it possible to obtain dynamic information from polymer solutions as well as solids and to obtain structural information from solid polymers as well as solutions. Thus, the barrier between two once quite separate modes of study of macromolecules—solid- and liquid-state NMR spectroscopy—has all but disappeared.


In addition to charge and mass, which all nuclei have, many isotopes possess spin, or angular momentum. Since a spinning charge generates a magnetic field, there is a magnetic moment associated with this angular momentum. The magnetic properties of nuclei were first postulated by Pauli (7) to explain certain hyperfine structural features of atomic spectra.

According to a basic principle of quantum mechanics, the maximum experimentally observable component of the angular momentum of a nucleus possessing a spin (or of any particle or system having angular momentum) is a half-integral or integral multiple of h/2π, where h is Planck’s constant. This maximum component is I, which is called the spin quantum number or simply the spin. Each nuclear ground state is characterized by just one value of I. If I = 0, the nucleus has no magnetic moment. If I is not zero, the nucleus will possess a magnetic moment μ, which is always taken as parallel to the angular momentum vector. The permitted values of the vector moment along any chosen axis are described by means of a set of magnetic quantum numbers m given by the series


Thus, if I is 1/2, the possible magnetic quantum numbers are +1/2 and −1/2. If I is 1, m may take on the values 1, 0, −1, and so on. In general, then, there are 2I + 1 possible orientations or states of the nucleus. In the absence of a magnetic field, these states all have the same energy. In the presence of a uniform magnetic field B0, they correspond to states of different potential energy. For nuclei for which I is 1/2, the two possible values of m, +1/2 and −1/2, describe states in which the nuclear moment is aligned with and against the field B0, respectively, the latter state being of higher energy. The detection of transitions of magnetic nuclei (often themselves referred to as spins) between the states is made possible by the nuclear magnetic resonance phenomenon.

The magnitudes of nuclear magnetic moments are often specified in terms of the ratio of magnetic moment and angular momentum, or magnetogyric ratio γ, defined as


A spinning spherical particle with mass M and charge e uniformly spread over its surface can be shown to give rise to a magnetic moment eh/4πMc, where c is the velocity of light. For a particle with the charge, mass, and spin of the proton, the moment should be 5.0505 × 10−27 joules/tesla (JT−1)1 (5.0505 × 10−27 erg-G−1 in cgs units) in this model. Actually, this approximation is not a good one even for the proton, which is observed to have a magnetic moment about 2.79 times as great as that the oversimplified model predicts. No simple model can predict or explain the actual magnetic moments of nuclei. However, the predicted moment for the proton serves as a useful unit for expressing nuclear moments and is known as the nuclear magneton; it is the analogue of the Bohr magneton for electron spin. Observed nuclear moments can be specified in terms of the nuclear magneton by


where Mp is the proton mass and g is an empirical parameter called the nuclear g factor. In units of nuclear magnetons, then,


In Table 1.1 nuclear moments are expressed in these units. It will be noted that some nuclei have negative moments. This is of some practical significance to NMR spectroscopists, as we shall see in later sections. Its theoretical meaning will be evident a little further on. It should also be noted that the neutron, with no net charge, has a substantial magnetic moment. This is a particularly striking illustration of the failure of simple models to predict μ. Clearly, the neutron must contain separated charges (at least a part of the time) even though its total charge is zero.


The NMR Properties of Nuclei of Interest to NMR Spectroscopists

aMagnetogyric ratio in SI units.

bFor an equal number of nuclei at constant field.

Although magnetic moments cannot be predicted exactly, there are useful empirical rules relating the mass number A and atomic number Z to the nuclear spin properties:

1. If both the mass number A and the atomic number Z are even, I = 0.

2. If A is odd and Z is odd or even, I will have half-integral values 1/2, 3/2, 5/2, etc.

3. If A is even and Z is odd, I will have integral values 1, 2, 3, etc.

Thus, some very common isotopes, such as ¹²C, ¹⁶O, and ³²S, have no magnetic moment and cannot be observed by NMR.

When placed in a magnetic field, nuclei having spin undergo precession about the field direction, as shown in Fig. 1.1. The frequency of this so-called Larmor precession is designated ω0 in radians per second or ν0 in hertz (Hz), cycles per second (ω0 = 2πν0). The nuclei can be made to flip over, i.e., reverse the direction of the spin axis, by applying a second magnetic field, designated B1, at right angles to B0 and causing this second field to rotate at the precession frequency ν0. This second field is represented by the horizontal vector in Fig. 1.1, although in practice it is actually very much smaller in relation to B0 than this figure suggests. It can be seen that if B1 rotates at a frequency close to but not exactly at the precession frequency, it will cause at most only some wobbling or nutation of the magnetic moment μ. If, however, B1 is made to rotate exactly at the precession frequency, it will cause large oscillations in the angle between μ and B0. If we vary the rate of rotation of B1 through this value, we will observe a resonance phenomenon as we pass through ν0.

FIGURE 1.1 Nuclear moment in a magnetic field.

One might suppose that the Larmor precession of the nuclear moments could itself be detected by some means without the need to invoke a resonance phenomenon. This, however, is not possible because each nucleus precesses with a completely random phase with respect to that of its neighbors and there is therefore no macroscopic property of the system that changes at the Larmor frequency. By a well-known relationship, the Larmor precession frequency is given by


or, from Eq. (1.2),


The result of this classical treatment can also be obtained by a quantum mechanical description, which is in some ways a more convenient way of regarding the resonance phenomenon. It is best, however, not to try to adopt either approach to the exclusion of the other, since each provides valuable insights. From the quantum mechanical viewpoint, the quantity hv0 is the energy separation ΔE between the magnetic energy levels (often termed Zeeman levels, after the investigator who first observed the corresponding splitting in atomic spectra) in a magnetic field B0, as shown in Fig. 1.2. For a nucleus of spin 1/2, ΔE will be 2μB0, and as we have seen, only two energy levels are possible. For a nucleus of spin 1, there are three energy levels, as illustrated in Fig. 1.2. The quantum mechanical treatment gives us an additional result for such systems with I > 1, which the classical treatment does not: it tells us that only transitions between adjacent energy levels are allowed, i.e., that the magnetic quantum number can only change by ±1. Thus, transitions between the m = − 1 and the m = 0 levels and between the m = +1 and the m = 0 levels are possible, but transitions between the m = −1 and the m = +1 levels are not possible.

FIGURE 1.2 Magnetic energy levels for nuclei of spin 1/2 and 1.

In Fig. 1.3 the separation of proton magnetic energy levels is shown as a function of magnetic field strength for a number of values of the latter employed in current spectrometers. The resonant proton RF field frequency is indicated (in megahertz, MHz, 10⁶ Hz) and is a common way of designating the magnetic field strength. Fields above ca. 2.5 T require superconducting solenoid magnets. For the ¹³C nucleus, which has a magnetogyric ratio one-fourth that of the proton (Table 1.1), the resonant frequencies will be one-fourth of those shown in Fig. 1.3.

FIGURE 1.3 The splitting of the magnetic energy levels of protons expressed as resonance frequency ν0 as a function of the magnetic field strength in tesla (T).


We have not yet said how the rotating magnetic field B1 is to be provided or how the resonance phenomenon is to be detected. In the semischematic diagram of Fig. 1.4, the sample tube is placed in the field of the magnet, which may be a superconducting solenoid (as shown here) or may also be a permanent magnet or an electromagnet. The radiofrequency transmitter applies an RF field of appropriate frequency (Fig. 1.3) by means of the exciting coil indicated, which is of Helmholtz design. The magnetic field direction z is along the axis of the sample tube. The magnetic vector of the RF field oscillates along the y direction [i.e., in a direction perpendicular to the axis of the sample tube and to B0 (see Fig. 1.5)]. This oscillating magnetic field provides what is required for flipping over the nuclear spins, for it may be thought of as being composed of two equal magnetic vectors rotating in phase with equal angular velocities, but in opposite directions. (An exact analogue is the decomposition of plane polarized light into two equal and opposite circularly polarized vectors.) The precessing magnetic moments will pick out the appropriate rotating component of B1 in accordance with Eq. (1.6) and the sign of μ (see Table 1.1). The other rotating component is so far off resonance that it has no observable effect.

FIGURE 1.4 Cross section of a superconducting magnet for NMR spectroscopy. The magnet and sample tube are not drawn to the same scale. The diameter of the magnet assembly is approximately 70 cm, while that of the tube is approximately 1 cm.

FIGURE 1.5 Decomposition of the magnetic vector B1 into two counterrotating vectors.

To display the resonance signal, the magnetic field may be increased slowly until Eq. (1.6) is satisfied and resonance occurs. At resonance, the nuclear magnetic dipoles in the lower energy state flip over and in so doing induce a voltage in the RF coil. This induced voltage is amplified and recorded. One may regard the rotating field B1 as having given the precessing spins a degree of coherence, so that now there is a detectable macroscopic magnetic moment, precessing at a rate ν0. The resonance phenomenon observed in this way is termed nuclear induction and is the method originally used by the Bloch group. Alternatively, the nuclear flipping may be detected as an absorption of energy from the RF field.

The continuous wave (CW) method of detection just described is now employed only in old or very simple NMR spectrometers. Much greater sensitivity and flexibility are achieved in modern instruments by use of pulse methods with Fourier transformation of the resulting time-domain signal. In principle, the signal-to-noise ratio of any spectrum can be improved by extending the observing time, t. , whereas the strength of a coherent signal increases as t. Thus, one might obtain increased sensitivity by sweeping through the spectrum over a period of several hours instead of a few minutes, as is usual. This approach is of limited utility, however, as saturation can occur. It is somewhat more practical to sweep through the spectrum rapidly many times in succession, beginning each new sweep at the same point in the spectrum and then summing up the traces. This summation can be performed by a multichannel pulse height analyzer and a small computer that can store several thousand traces. The signal-to-noise ratio increases in proportion to the square root of the number of traces.

This method is still wasteful of time, however, as many spectra, particularly ¹³C spectra, consists mostly of baseline. The time intervals spent between resonances are not profitable. It is much more efficient to excite all the nuclei of interest at the same time and to avoid sweeping entirely. This can be done by supplying the RF field in the form of pulses. These are commonly orders of magnitude stronger than the RF fields used in CW spectroscopy. Pulse spectroscopy utilizes the fact that a burst of resonant RF energy, although nominally monochromatic, with a frequency ν0, actually contains a band of frequencies corresponding to the Fourier series of sine and cosine functions necessary to approximate a square wave. The bandwidth may be estimated approximately as ν0 ± 1/tp, where tp is the duration (or width) of the pulse, generally a few microseconds. The use of pulsed RF fields in NMR spectroscopy was first suggested by Bloch et al. (3). It has long been standard for the measurement of proton relaxation in the solid state, particularly for polymers (8,9). It use with spectrum accumulation for observing high-resolution spectra was first proposed by Ernst and Anderson (10).

In CW spectroscopy, the RF field tips the macroscopic magnetic moment M0 only very slightly. In pulsed spectroscopy, the angle of tipping, α, is much greater and is proportional to the magnetogyric ratio of the nucleus and to the strength and duration of the pulse, as given by Eq. (1.7), which is a variation of Eq. (1.5):


It is common to employ a pulse that rotates the magnetic moment by π/2 rad or 90°, i.e., just into the x′y′ plane, as shown in Figs. 1.6(b) and 1.6(c). Such a pulse is termed a 90° pulse. In Fig. 1.6, the magnetization M0 is represented in a coordinate frame that rotates with B1 and, at resonance, with M0, and in which both are therefore static. In Fig. 1.6(d) the magnetization vectors are shown fanning out, i.e., precessing at unequal rates, as a result of inhomogeneities in B0 and nuclear relaxation. The resulting loss of phase coherence is manifested as a decay in the net magnetization and in the observed signal, and occurs with a time constant T2. At the same time, Mz, the longitudinal component of M0, is growing back with a time constant T1. The decay of the transverse magnetization (which provides the observed signal) is termed a free induction decay (FID), referring to the absence of the RF field. It may also be called the time-domain spectrum. The FID following a single 90° pulse is shown in a schematic manner in Fig. 1.7(a). The FID is an interferogram with a simple exponential decay envelope; the beat pattern corresponds to the difference between the pulse carrier frequency ν0 and the precession frequency of the nuclei vc. In Fig. 1.7(b) the FID is shown undergoing transformation to its Fourier inverse, appearing as a conventional or frequency-domain spectrum.

FIGURE 1.6 Rotating frame diagrams describing the pulsed NMR experiment. (The primed axes are used to indicate a rotating coordinate system.) (a) The net magnetization M0 is aligned along the magnetic field direction. In (b) and (c) a 90° pulse is applied along the x′ axis to rotate the magnetization into the x′y′ plane. In (d) and (e) the spins begin to relax (or dephase) in the x′y′ plane due to spin-spin (T2) relaxation and finally return to their equilibrium state (f) via spin-lattice (T1) relaxation.

FIGURE 1.7 (a) Representation of a 90° RF pulse and the ensuing free induction decay (FID). (b) The Fourier transformation of the time-domain FID into the frequency-domain signal.



In the magnetic fields employed in NMR instruments, the separation of nuclear magnetic energy levels is very small. For example, for protons in a field of 14.1 T (near the largest value employed in commercial instruments) it is only about 0.5 J. Even in the absence of the RF field there is usually a sufficiently rapid transfer of spins from the lower to the upper state and vice versa (for reasons to be explained shortly), so that an equilibrium population distribution is attained within a few seconds after B0 is applied. If this distribution of spins is given by the Boltzmann factor e²μB0/kT, this can be expressed with sufficient accuracy by


where N+ and N− represent the spin populations of the lower and upper states, respectively, and T is the Boltzmann spin temperature. It can thus be seen that even for protons, the net degree of polarization of the nuclear moments in the magnetic field direction is small; for example, only about 100 ppm, in an 11.75-T (500 MHz for protons; see Fig. 1.3) field; for all other nuclei (with the exception of tritium), it is even smaller. It is also clear that the nuclear magnetic energy cannot be expected to perturb the thermal energies of the molecules to an observable degree, except possibly at temperatures close to 0 K.

For nuclei with spins greater than 1/2, the 2I + 1 equally spaced magnetic energy levels will be separated in energy by μB0, and the relative populations of adjacent levels will be given by expressions analogous to Eq. (1.8). To simplify the subsequent discussion, we shall confine our attention to nuclei with spins of 1/2, recognizing that what is said for such two-level systems will apply also to any pair of adjacent levels in systems of spin greater than 1/2.

We have seen that in the presence of the field B1, there will be a net transfer of spins from the lower energy state to the upper energy state. In time, such a process would cause the populations of the levels to become equal, or nearly so, corresponding to a condition of saturation and to a very high Boltzmann spin temperature, unless there were some means by which the upper level spins could relax to the lower level. Such a process transfers energy from or cools the spin system. Similarly, when a system of spins is first thrust into a magnetic field, the populations of spins in the upper and lower energy states are equal, and the same relaxation must occur in order to establish an equilibrium spin population distribution and permit a resonance signal to be observed. It should be realized that since the energies involved are very small and the nuclei are, as we shall see, usually rather weakly coupled thermally to their surroundings, i.e., the thermal relaxation is a slow process, the spin temperature may readily be made very high with little or no effect on the actual temperature of the sample as ordinarily observed. We may say that the heat capacity of the nuclear spin system is very small.

The required relaxation can occur because each spin is not entirely isolated from the rest of the assembly of molecules, commonly referred to as the lattice, a term which originated in dealing with solids but which has long been employed in discussing both liquids and solids. The spins and the lattice may be considered to be essentially separate coexisting systems with a very inefficient but nevertheless very important link by which thermal energy may be exchanged. This link is provided by molecular motion. Each nucleus sees a number of other nearby magnetic nuclei, both in the same molecule and in other molecules. These neighboring nuclei are in motion with respect to the observed nucleus, and this motion gives rise to fluctuating magnetic fields. The observed nuclear magnetic moment will be precessing about the direction of the applied field B0, and will also be experiencing the fluctuating fields of its neighbors. Since the motions of each molecule and of its neighbors are random or nearly random, there will be a broad range of frequencies describing them. To the degree that the fluctuating local fields have components in the direction of B1 and at the precession frequency ω0 (expressed in rad-s−1 or 2πv0), they will induce transitions between energy levels because they provide fields equivalent to B1. In solids or very viscous liquids, the molecular motions are relatively slow and so the component at ω0 will be small. The frequency spectrum will resemble curve (a) in Fig. 1.8. At the other extreme, in liquids of very low viscosity, the motional frequency spectrum may be very broad, and so no one component, in particular that at ω0, can be very intense [curve (c) in Fig. 1.8]. We are then led to expect that at some intermediate condition, probably that of a moderately viscous liquid [curve (b)], the component at ω0 will be at a maximum, and thermal relaxation of the spin system can occur with optimum efficiency.

FIGURE 1.8 Motional frequency spectrum at (a) high viscosity, (b) moderate viscosity, and (c) low viscosity. The vertical ordinate J(ω) represents the relative intensity of the motional frequency ω. The observing frequency is ω0.

The probability per unit time of a downward transition of a spin from the higher to the lower magnetic energy level, W↑, exceeds that of the reverse transition W↓, by the same factor as the equilibrium lower state population exceeds the upper state population [Eq. (1.8)]. We may then write


This must be the case, or equilibrium could not be maintained. (For isolated spins, i.e., those not in contact with the thermal reservoir provided by the lattice, the transition probabilities are exactly the same in both directions.) Let the spin population difference at any time t be given by n; let the equilibrium population difference (i.e., in the presence of B0, but in the absence of the RF field) be given by neq. We shall also define more completely the longitudinal relaxation time T1, in units of seconds, as the reciprocal of the sum of the probabilities (per second) of upward and downward transitions, i.e., the total rate of spin transfer in both directions:


The approach to equilibrium will be described by


N− and N+ being the populations of the upper and lower levels, respectively, as in Eq. (1.8). This represents the net transfer of spins from the upper state. (The factors of 2 arise because each transfer of one spin changes the population difference by 2.) If we designate the total spin population (N+ + N−) by N, we can express this rate in terms of N and n as


At equilibrium, we find from Eq. (1.12) that


and so, using Eq. (1.10), we may rewrite Eq. (1.12) as


which gives upon integration


We see then that, as might perhaps have been intuitively expected, the rate of approach to thermal equilibrium depends upon how far away from equilibrium we are. Here 1/T1 is the first-order constant (in the language of chemical kinetics) for this process. T1 is called the spin–lattice relaxation time; it is the time required for the difference between the actual spin population and its equilibrium value to be reduced by the factor e.

Except in a static collection of nuclei, i.e., a solid near 0 K, spin–lattice relaxation through molecular motion always occurs, although it may be very slow. There are two other possible contributing causes to spin-lattice relaxation which may occur under some conditions and are of importance to the chemist.

1. Spin–lattice relaxation by interaction with unpaired electrons in paramagnetic substances. Fundamentally the mechanism is exactly the same as the one just discussed, but is much more effective because the magnetic moment of an unpaired electron is close to the magnitude of the Bohr magneton, eh/4πMec, and on the order of 10³ times greater than the nuclear magneton owing to the small mass of the electron, Me.

2. Spin–lattice relaxation by interaction of the electric quadruple moments of nuclei of spin 1 or greater with electric fields within the tumbling molecule.

Spin–lattice relaxation is often termed longitudinal relaxation because it involves changes of energy and therefore involves the component of the nuclear moment along the direction of the applied magnetic field. It also, of course, shortens the lifetimes of the spins in both the upper and the lower energy states. This leads to an uncertainty in the energies of these states and to a broadening of the resonance lines. This can be estimated from the Heisenberg relation, δE · δt h/2π, from which the uncertainty in the frequency of absorption is given by


Under the present-day operating conditions, linewidths are about 0.2 Hz, which, if arising from uncertainty broadening, would correspond to a spin lifetime of about 0.3 s. Since T1 for protons and ¹³C is usually on the order of 2-20 s in mobile liquids (somewhat shorter for polymers in solution), spin-lattice relaxation ordinarily does not contribute observably to line broadening. As the temperature is lowered and viscosity increases, the component of the local magnetic noise spectrum at the Larmor frequency will increase, pass through a maximum, and decrease again. T1 will correspondingly decrease, pass through a minimum, and increase again. It is useful to define a correlation time τc, which we shall understand to be the average time between molecular collisions. The correlation time defines the length of time that the molecule can be considered to be in a particular state of motion. This time is sometimes referred to as the phase memory of the system. Thus, molecules with short correlation times are in rapid molecular motion. For rigid, approximately spherical molecules, τc is given to a good degree of approximation by


τD being the correlation time used in the Debye theory of dielectric dispersion, η the viscosity of the liquid, and a the effective radius of the molecule. For most nonassociated molecules, T1 is governed mainly by interactions of nuclei within the same molecule, rather than by motions of neighboring molecules. Under these conditions, it is found that the rate of spin-lattice relaxation for a spin-1/2 nucleus interacting with another nucleus of the same species is given by