Nanoparticle Dispersion and Aggregation in Polymer Nanocomposites: Insights from Molecular Dynamics Simulation

J Liu and YG Gao and DP Cao and LQ Zhang and ZH Guo, LANGMUIR, 27, 7926-7933 (2011).

DOI: 10.1021/la201073m

It is a great challenge to fully understand the microscopic dispersion and aggregation of nanoparticles (NPs) in polymer nanocomposites (PNCs) through experimental techniques. Here, coarse-grained molecular dynamics is adopted to study the dispersion and aggregation mechanisms of spherical NPs in polymer melts. By tuning the polymer filler interaction in a wide range at both low and high filler loadings, we qualitatively sketch the phase behavior of the PNCs and structural spatial organization of the fillers mediated by the polymers, which emphasize that a homogeneous filler dispersion exists just at the intermediate interfacial interaction, in contrast with traditional viewpoints. The conclusion is in good agreement with the theoretically predicted results from Schweizer et al. Besides, to mimick the experimental coarsening process of NPs in polymer matrixes (ACS Nano 2008, 2, 1305), by grafting polymer chains on the filler surface, we obtain a good filler dispersion with a large interparticle distance. Considering the PNC system without the presence of chemical bonding between the NPs and the grafted polymer chains, the resulting good dispersion state is further used to investigate the effects of the temperature, polymer-filler interaction, and filler size on the filler aggregation process. It is found that the coarsening or aggregation process of the NPs is sensitive to the temperature, and the aggregation extent reaches the minimum in the case of moderate polymer-filler interaction, because in this case a good dispersion is obtained. That is to say, once the filler achieves a good dispersion in a polymer matrix, the properties of the PNCs will be improved significantly, because the coarsening process of the NPs will be delayed and the aging of the PNCs will be slowed.

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