• controlled/living radical polymerization;
  • living polymerization;
  • molecular weight;
  • polyacrylonitrile;
  • radical polymerization;
  • reversible addition fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT)


The reversible addition–fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) polymerization of acrylonitrile (AN) mediated by 2-cyanoprop-2-yl dithiobenzoate was first applied to synthesize polyacrylonitrile (PAN) with a high molecular weight up to 32,800 and a polydispersity index as low as 1.29. The key to success was ascribed to the optimization of the experimental conditions to increase the fragmentation reaction efficiency of the intermediate radical. In accordance with the atom transfer radical polymerization of AN, ethylene carbonate was also a better solvent candidate for providing higher controlled/living RAFT polymerization behaviors than dimethylformamide and dimethyl sulfoxide. The various experimental parameters, including the temperature, the molar ratio of dithiobenzoate to the initiator, the molar ratio of the monomer to dithiobenzoate, the monomer concentration, and the addition of the comonomer, were varied to improve the control of the molecular weight and polydispersity index. The molecular weights of PANs were validated by gel permeation chromatography along with a universal calibration procedure and intrinsic viscosity measurements. 1H NMR analysis confirmed the high chain-end functionality of the resultant polymers. © 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Polym Sci Part A: Polym Chem 45: 1272–1281, 2007