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Springback effect and structural features during the drying of silica aerogels tracked by in-situ synchrotron X-ray scattering

Zemke, Fabian; Scoppola, Ernesto; Simon, Ulla; Bekheet, Maged F.; Wagermaier, Wolfgang; Gurlo, Aleksander

The springback effect during ambient pressure drying of aerogels is an interesting structural phenomenon, consisting of a severe shrinkage followed by almost complete re-expansion. The drying of gels causes shrinkage, whereas re-expansion is believed to be linked to repelling forces on the nanoscale. A multi-scale structural characterization of this significant volume change is key in controlling aerogel processing and properties. In this work, hydrophobic, monolithic silica aerogels with high specific surface areas were synthesized by modification with trimethylchlorosilane and ambient pressure drying. Here, we report a multi-method approach focusing on in-situ X-ray scattering to observe alterations of the nanostructured material during the drying of surface-modified and unmodified silica gels. Both show a porous fractal nanostructure, which partially collapses during drying and only recovers in surface-modified samples during the springback effect. Distinct changes of the X-ray scattering data were reproducibly associated with the shrinkage, re-expansion and drying of the gel network. Our findings may contribute to tailor aerogels with specific functionality, as the springback effect has a direct influence on properties (e.g., porosity, pore size distribution), which is directly affected by the degree of re-expansion.
Published in: Scientific Reports, 10.1038/s41598-022-11127-6, Springer Nature