Balancing the interfacial interactions between a polymer and substrate is one of the most commonly employed methods to ensure the vertical orientation of nanodomains in block copolymer lithography. Although a number of technologies have been developed to meet this challenge, there remains a need for a universal solution for surface neutralization that combines simple synthesis, fast processing times, generality toward substrate, low density of film defects, and good surface adhesion. The chemistry of ketenes, which combines highly efficient polymer crosslinking through dimerization and surface adhesion through reaction with the substrate, is shown to be well suited to the challenge. The versatile chemistry of ketenes are accessed through the post-polymerization of Meldrum's acid, which can be easily incorporated into copolymers through controlled radical polymerization processes. Further, the Meldrum's acid monomer is synthesized on a large scale in one step without the need for chromatography. Processing times of seconds, low defect density, simple synthetic procedures, and good substrate adhesion make these materials attractive as robust block copolymer neutralization layers.