Aggregation of flexible polyelectrolytes: Phase diagram and dynamics

AM Tom and R Rajesh and S Vemparala, JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS, 147, 144903 (2017).

DOI: 10.1063/1.4993684

Similarly charged polymers in solution, known as polyelectrolytes, are known to form aggregated structures in the presence of oppositely charged counterions. Understanding the dependence of the equilibrium phases and the dynamics of the process of aggregation on parameters such as backbone flexibility and charge density of such polymers is crucial for insights into various biological processes which involve biological polyelectrolytes such as protein, DNA, etc. Here, we use large-scale coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulations to obtain the phase diagram of the aggregated structures of flexible charged polymers and characterize the morphology of the aggregates as well as the aggregation dynamics, in the presence of trivalent counterions. Three different phases are observed depending on the charge density: no aggregation, a finite bundle phase where multiple small aggregates coexist with a large aggregate and a fully phase separated phase. We show that the flexibility of the polymer backbone causes strong entanglement between charged polymers leading to additional time scales in the aggregation process. Such slowing down of the aggregation dynamics results in the exponent, characterizing the power law decay of the number of aggregates with time, to be dependent on the charge density of the polymers. These results are contrary to those obtained for rigid polyelectrolytes, emphasizing the role of backbone flexibility. Published by AIP Publishing.

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