Measurement of particle size and particle morphology by transmission electron microscopy (TEM) is important in the characterization of polymer latex systems. Special sample treatment methods have been developed to permit the study of latexes that present problems, such as low-glass-transition-temperature (Tg) and electron-transparent particles. Some of these methods include hardening and staining by osmium tetroxide or bromine of latexes that contain unsaturation, negative staining by uranyl acetate, and freezing of latexes with low glass-transition temperatures.
We have recently found phosphotungstic acid (PTA) to be useful in both negative and positive staining of latex particles. As a negative stain, PTA can enhance the contrast between the electron-transparent particles and the dense PTA-stained background. This has been particularly useful with latexes such as poly(butyl acrylate), poly(ethyl acrylate), poly(ethylene), and other polymers of similar electron densities. As a positive stain, PTA can also react with the surface functional groups of particles, such as hydroxyl, carboxyl, and amine groups.