Microgel in a Pore: Intraparticle Segregation or Snail-like Behavior Caused by Collapse and Swelling

IV Portnov and M Moller and W Richtering and II Potemkin, MACROMOLECULES, 51, 8147-8155 (2018).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.macromol.8b01569

We demonstrate that a microgel can enter and exit a narrow cylindrical pore under external stimuli leading to collapse and swelling of the microgel. Attractive interactions between the microgel and the pore surface stimulate the microgel entering upon its collapse. The entering is driven by a gain in the surface energy: the area of the microgel-pore contacts is maximized within the pore. Swelling of the microgel within the pore of a finite size is thermodynamically favorable if the pore thickness exceeds a certain threshold value. Otherwise, the swelling leads to the microgel exit. The physical reason for this is a gain in the elastic free energy of the subchains which are less stretched outside the pore. We systematically study swelling and collapse of the microgel within the pore. Both longitudinal size and radial concentration profiles are calculated for different strength of interactions of the beads with each other and the pore surface. We predict an intramicrogel "phase" coexistence leading to the formation of a dense adsorbed layer near the pore surface and highly swollen central part of the microgel. Furthermore, the permeation of nanoparticles, whose size is smaller than the mesh size of the microgels, was simulated under different swelling and adsorption degrees. It is demonstrated that the microgel can slow down and completely stop the permeation of nanoparticles through the pore.

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