Controlled and very rapid ambient temperature polymerization of tert-butyl acrylate (tBA) via atom transfer radical polymerization (ATRP) and single electron transfer living radical polymerization (SET-LRP) conditions is reported. Two initiators, one that would generate a secondary radical and another that would generate a primary radical, upon activation, are used. A very active catalyst CuBr/Me 6TREN was found to initiate rapid polymerization whether it was the primary or the secondary initiator. The polymerization was well controlled and very rapid. The initiator that produces secondary initiating site is found to result in more rapid polymerization than the one that produces primary initiating site. To explore the possibility of rapid ambient temperature polymerization through the SET-LRP mechanism, the polymerization was also carried out in the presence of DMSO. It was found that the polymerization was much faster compared to the bulk ATRP, without loss of control. Styrene was block copolymerized from PtBA macroinitiators and vice versa. In both the cases, block copolymers with controlled molecular weights were obtained. The tBA block of the polymer was selectively hydrolyzed to get amphiphilic block copolymers. This amphiphilic block copolymer was found to be useful in preparing stable cadmium sulfide (CdS) nanoparticulate dispersion. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.