Molecular transport and flow past hard and soft surfaces: computer simulation of model systems

F Leonforte and J Servantie and C Pastorino and M Muller, JOURNAL OF PHYSICS-CONDENSED MATTER, 23, 184105 (2011).

DOI: 10.1088/0953-8984/23/18/184105

The equilibrium and flow of polymer films and drops past a surface are characterized by the interface and surface tensions, viscosity, slip length and hydrodynamic boundary position. These parameters of the continuum description are extracted from molecular simulations of coarse-grained models. Hard, corrugated substrates are modelled by a Lennard-Jones solid while polymer brushes are studied as prototypes of soft, deformable surfaces. Four observations are discussed. (i) If the surface becomes strongly attractive or is coated with a brush, the Navier boundary condition fails to describe the effect of the surface independently of the strength and type of the flow. This failure stems from the formation of a boundary layer with an effective, higher viscosity. (ii) In the case of brush-coated surfaces, flow induces a cyclic, tumbling motion of the tethered chain molecules. Their collective motion gives rise to an inversion of the flow in the vicinity of the grafting surfaces and leads to strong, non-Gaussian fluctuations of the molecular orientations. The flow past a polymer brush cannot be described by Brinkman's equation. (iii) The hydrodynamic boundary condition is an important parameter for predicting the motion of polymer droplets on a surface under the influence of an external force. Their steady-state velocity is dictated by a balance between the power that is provided by the external force and the dissipation. If there is slippage at the liquid-solid interface, the friction at the solid-liquid interface and the viscous dissipation of the flow inside the drop will be the dominant dissipation mechanisms; dissipation at the three-phase contact line appears to be less important on a hard surface. (iv) On a soft, deformable substrate like a polymer brush, we observe a lifting-up of the three-phase contact line. Controlling the grafting density and the incompatibility between the brush and the polymer liquid we can independently tune the softness of the surface and the contact angle and thereby identify the parameters for maximizing the deformation at the three-phase contact.

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