Polymer-Induced Inverse-Temperature Crystallization of Nanoparticles on a Substrate

XZ Cao and H Merlitz and CX Wu and JU Sommer, ACS NANO, 7, 9920-9926 (2013).

DOI: 10.1021/nn4037738

Using molecular dynamics simulations, we study the properties of liquid state polymer-nanoparticle composites confined between two parallel substrates, with an attractive polymer-substrate interaction. Polymers are in the semidilute regime at concentrations far above the overlap point, and nanoparticles are in good solvent and without enthalpic attraction to the substrates. An increase of temperature then triggers the crystallization of nanoparticles on one of the two substrate surfaces-a surprising phenomenon, which is explained in terms of scaling theory, such as through competing effects of adsorption-and correlation blobs. Moreover, we show that the first, closely packed layer of nanoparticles on the substrate increases the depletion attraction of additional nanoparticles from the bulk, thereby enhancing and stabilizing the formation of a crystalline phase on the substrate. Within the time frame accessible to our numerical simulations, the crystallization of nanoparticles was irreversible; that is, their crystalline phase, once created, remained undamaged after a decrease of the temperature. Our study leads to a class of thermoreactive nanomaterials, in which the transition between a homogeneous state with dissolved nanoparticles and a surface-crystallized state is triggered by a temperature jump.

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