In the reported experiments, thermally stimulated discharge has been used in the past to diagnose and estimate the magnitude of electrical polarization in polymers. Nevertheless, molecular characterization of operative phenomena by this technique alone is often a difficult task. In the present work, IR attenuated total reflection spectroscopy has been used to investigate the origin of thermally stimulated discharge currents near 200 degree C in externally unpolarized films of polyacrylonitrile (PAN). Spectroscopic analysis of thermally degraded films reveals some unsaturation of the PAN backbone and possibly the generation of cyanide ions. Opposite surfaces in a solvent-cast film give different spectra, indicating a gradient in chemical degradation products across the film thickness. Data suggest that nonuniform generation of charged species and unsaturated bonds gives rise to internal potentials in PAN. The origin of thermally stimulated currents in PAN near 200 degree C is thus believed to be associated with the onset of chemical degradation.
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