Macromolecules that possess three-dimensional, branched molecular structures are of great interest because they exhibit significantly differentiated application performance compared to conventional linear (straight chain) polymers. This paper reports the synthesis of 3- and 4-arm star branched polymers via ring opening polymerisation (ROP) utilising multi-functional hydroxyl initiators and Sn(Oct)2 as precatalyst. The structures produced include mono-functional hydrophobic and multi-functional amphiphilic core corona stars. The characteristics of the synthetic process were shown to be principally dependent upon the physical/dielectric properties of the initiators used. ROP's using initiators that were more available to become directly involved with the Sn(Oct)₂ in the "in-situ" formation of the true catalytic species were observed to require shorter reaction times. Use of microwave heating (MWH) in homopolymer star synthesis reduced reaction times compared to conventional heating (CH) equivalents, this was attributed to an increased rate of "in-situ" catalyst formation. However, in amphiphilic core corona star formation, the MWH polymerisations exhibited slower propagation rates than CH equivalents. This was attributed to macro-structuring within the reaction medium, which reduced the potential for reaction. It was concluded that CH experiments were less affected by this macro-structuring because it was disrupted by the thermal currents/gradients caused by the conductive/convective heating mechanisms. These gradients are much reduced/absent with MWH because it selectively heats specific species simultaneously throughout the entire volume of the reaction medium. These partitioning problems were overcome by introducing additional quantities of the species that had been determined to selectively heat.
The use of dielectric property measurements to define specific trends in the molecular structures of poly(caprolactone) containing star polymers and/or the interbatch repeatability of the synthetic procedures used to generate them is demonstrated. The magnitude of the dielectric property value is shown to accurately reflect: (a) the number of functional groups within a series of materials with similar molecular size when no additional intermolecular order is present in the medium, (b) the polymer molecular size for a series of materials containing a fixed core material and so functional group number, and/or (c) the batch to batch repeatability of the synthesis method. The dielectric measurements are validated by comparison to spectroscopic/chromatographic data.