A robust and reproducible procedure for cross-linking thermoset polymers using molecular simulation
B Demir and TR Walsh, SOFT MATTER, 12, 2453-2464 (2016).
Molecular simulation can provide valuable guidance in establishing clear links between structure and function to enable the design of new polymer-based materials. However, molecular simulation of thermoset polymers in particular, such as epoxies, present specific challenges, chiefly in the credible preparation of polymerised samples. Despite this need, a comprehensive, reproducible and robust process for accomplishing this using molecular simulation is still lacking. Here, we introduce a clear and reproducible cross-linking protocol to reliably generate three dimensional epoxy cross-linked polymer structures for use in molecular simulations. This protocol is sufficiently detailed to allow complete reproduction of our results, and is applicable to any general thermoset polymer. Amongst our developments, key features include a reproducible procedure for calculation of partial atomic charges, a reliable process for generating and validating an equilibrated liquid precursor mixture, and establishment of a novel, robust and reproducible protocol for generating the three-dimensional cross-linked solid polymer. We use these structures as input to subsequent molecular dynamics simulations to calculate a range thermo-mechanical properties, which compare favourably with experimental data. Our general protocol provides a benchmark for the process of simulating epoxy polymers, and can be readily translated to prepare and model epoxy samples that are dynamically cross-linked in the presence of surfaces and nanostructures.
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