Ionic Conductivity in Polyelectrolyte Hydrogels

HH Li and A Erbas and J Zwanikken and MO de la Cruz, MACROMOLECULES, 49, 9239-9246 (2016).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.macromol.6b01276

Transport of ionic species in heterogeneous polymeric media is highly dependent on the charge distributions and interactions between mobile and immobile groups. Here we perform coarse grained molecular dynamics simulations to study the ion dynamics in swollen polyelectrolyte gels under external electric fields. A nonlinear response of the ionic conductivity to an applied electric field, for field strengths that are comparable to the ionic coupling strength, is observed. This behavior correlates to a broadening of the ionic distribution around the polymer backbone under an increasing electric field. Also, we find that the weak-field ionic mobility in gels increases with density, which is opposite to the behavior of simple electrolytes. This relates to the mean coupling between charges that decreases in gels, but increases in simple electrolytes, with increasing density. These results provide more insights into the electric response of polyelectrolyte gels to support the development of applications that combine electric and mechanical properties of polyelectrolyte gels for energy storage, sensing, selective transport, and signal transfer.

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