Molecular Dynamics Simulation Study of Polymer Nanocomposites with Controllable Dispersion of Spherical Nanoparticles

ZJ Zheng and GY Hou and XY Xia and J Liu and M Tsige and YP Wu and LQ Zhang, JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY B, 121, 10146-10156 (2017).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpcb.7b06482

Through coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulation, we construct a novel kind of end-linked polymer network by employing dual end- functionalized polymer chains that chemically attach to the surface of nanoparticles (NPs), so that the NPs act as large cross-linkers. We examine the effects of the length and flexibility of polymer chains on the dispersion of NPs, and the effect of the chain length on the stress- strain behavior and the segment orientation during the deformation process. We find that the stress upturn becomes more prominent with the decrease of the chain length, attributed to the limited extensibility of the chain strand connecting two neighboring NPs. In addition, this end linked polymer nanocomposite (PNC) is shown to have a temperature- dependent stress-strain behavior that is contrary to traditional physically mixed PNCs, whose mechanical properties deteriorate with increasing temperature. This is due to the stability of the dispersion of NPs and higher entropic elasticity at higher temperature for the former, while the latter has poorer interfacial interaction at higher temperature, leading to less reinforcing efficiency. By imposing a dynamic oscillatory shear deformation, we obtain a dynamic hysteresis loop for end-linked and physically mixed dispersions. Interestingly, the end-linked system possesses a much smaller hysteresis loss than does the physically mixed system, with the latter exhibiting a more prominent decrease with increasing temperature, due to less interfacial contact. Our results demonstrate that end-linked PNCs combine attractive static and dynamic mechanical properties and exhibit an unusual response to temperature, which could find potential applications in the future.

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