Molecular dynamics simulations of polyelectrolyte brushes under poor solvent conditions: Origins of bundle formation

GL He and H Merlitz and JU Sommer, JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS, 140, 104911 (2014).

DOI: 10.1063/1.4867466

Molecular dynamics simulations are applied to investigate salt-free planar polyelectrolyte brushes under poor solvent conditions. Starting above the Theta-point with a homogeneous brush and then gradually reducing the temperature, the polymers initially display a lateral structure formation, forming vertical bundles of chains. A further reduction of the temperature (or solvent quality) leads to a vertical collapse of the brush. By varying the size and selectivity of the counterions, we show that lateral structure formation persists and therefore demonstrate that the entropy of counterions being the dominant factor for the formation of the bundle phase. By applying an external compression force on the brush we calculate the minimal work done on the polymer phase only and prove that the entropy gain of counterions in the bundle state, as compared to the homogeneously collapsed state at the same temperature, is responsible for the lateral microphase segregation. As a consequence, the observed lateral structure formation has to be regarded universal for osmotic polymer brushes below the Theta-point. (C) 2014 AIP Publishing LLC.

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