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Thermoresponsive polymers have attracted much scientific attention due to their capacity for temperature-driven hydrogel formation. For biomedical applications, such as drug delivery, this transition should be tuned below body temperature to facilitate controlled and targeted drug release. We have recently developed a thermoresponsive polymer that forms gel at low concentrations (2 w/w%) in aqueous media and offers a cost-effective alternative to thermoresponsive systems currently being applied in clinics. This polymer is an ABC triblock terpolymer, where A, B, and C correspond to oligo(ethylene glycol) methyl ether methacrylate with average Mn 300 g mol−1 (OEGMA300), n-butyl methacrylate (BuMA), and di(ethylene glycol) methyl ether methacrylate (DEGMA). To investigate the self-assembly and the gelation mechanism in diluted solutions, we used small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) on 1 w/w% (below the gelation concentration) and 5 w/w% solutions (above the gelation concentration). As a comparison, we also investigated the solutions of the most studied thermoresponsive polymer, namely, Pluronic F127, an ABA triblock bipolymer made of ethylene glycol (A) and propylene glycol (B) blocks. SANS revealed that the in-house synthesised polymer forms elliptical cylinders, whose length increases significantly with temperature. In contrast, Pluronic F127 solutions form core-shell spherical micelles, which slightly elongate with temperature. Transmission electron microscopy images support the SANS findings, with tubular/worm structures being present. Variable-temperature circular dichroism (CD) and proton nuclear magnetic resonance (1H NMR) spectroscopy experiments reveal insights on the tacticity, structural changes, and molecular origin of the self-assembly.

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