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Characterizing Styrene Monomer and Oligomers by SEC/MALS/VISC/DRI



Andre Striegel


Worldwide polystyrene (PS) production in 2020 was approximately 27 million metric tons, distributed among many nations, making it one of the most heavily imported and exported chemicals. Commercially produced PS usually possesses a broad molar mass distribution, often with a substantial oligomeric component. The latter can significantly affect processing and end-use, in addition to having potentially hazardous health effects and to impacting the polymer's export classification by regulatory agencies. Quantitation of the oligomeric region of polymers by size-exclusion chromatography with concentration-sensitive and/or static light scattering detection is complicated by the non-constancy of the specific refractive index increment dn/dc in this region, which affects the calculated amount (mass fraction) of oligomer in a polymer, molar mass averages, and related conclusions regarding macromolecular properties. Here, a multi-detector SEC approach including refractometry, multi-angle static light scattering, and differential viscometry has been applied to determining the dn/dc of n-butyl terminated styrene oligomers at each degree of polymerization from monomer to hexamer, and also of a hexadecamer. Large changes in this parameter from one degree of polymerization to the next are observed, including but not restricted to the fact that the dn/dc of the monomer is less than half that of PS polymer at identical experimental conditions. As part of this study, the individual effects of injection volume, flow rate, and temperature on chromatographic resolution were examined. Incorporation of the on-line viscometer allowed for accurate determination of the intrinsic viscosity and viscometric radius of the monomer and oligomers.


Styrene oligomers, specific refractive index increment, size-exclusion chromatography, light scattering, viscometry, refractometry


Striegel, A. (2024), Characterizing Styrene Monomer and Oligomers by SEC/MALS/VISC/DRI, Chromatographia, [online],, (Accessed July 24, 2024)


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Created January 10, 2024, Updated February 9, 2024