Ordering nanoparticles with polymer brushes

SF Cheng and MJ Stevens and GS Grest, JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS, 147, 224901 (2017).

DOI: 10.1063/1.5006048

Ordering nanoparticles into a desired super-structure is often crucial for their technological applications. We use molecular dynamics simulations to study the assembly of nanoparticles in a polymer brush randomly grafted to a planar surface as the solvent evaporates. Initially, the nanoparticles are dispersed in a solvent that wets the polymer brush. After the solvent evaporates, the nanoparticles are either inside the brush or adsorbed at the surface of the brush, depending on the strength of the nanoparticle-polymer interaction. For strong nanoparticle-polymer interactions, a 2-dimensional ordered array is only formed when the brush density is finely tuned to accommodate a single layer of nanoparticles. When the brush density is higher or lower than this optimal value, the distribution of nanoparticles shows large fluctuations in space and the packing order diminishes. For weak nanoparticle-polymer interactions, the nanoparticles order into a hexagonal array on top of the polymer brush as long as the grafting density is high enough to yield a dense brush. An interesting healing effect is observed for a low-grafting-density polymer brush that can become more uniform in the presence of weakly adsorbed nanoparticles. Published by AIP Publishing.

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