Critical Conditions of Adhesion and Separation of Functionalized Nanoparticles on Polymer Grafted Substrates

KP Santo and A Vishnyakov and Y Brun and AV Neimark, JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY C, 123, 16091-16106 (2019).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpcc.9b01219

Emerging technologies of production and processing of functionalized nanoparticles (NP) require advanced methods of NP characterization and separation. While various methods are available for NP separation by size, there are no efficient methods for NP separation by surface chemistry. Using extensive dissipative particle dynamics simulations, this work investigates the mechanisms of NP adhesion and flow in polymer brush (PB)-grafted pore channels searching for the conditions for size- independent separation of NPs that are similar to the critical conditions of liquid chromatography of polymers. We consider interactions of NPs functionalized by hydrophilic and hydrophobic ligands with PBs, in which conformation and adhesion properties are controlled by the solvent quality varied with the composition of thermodynamically good and poor solvent components. The NP-PB adhesion is characterized by the free energy landscape calculated by the ghost tweezers simulation method that mimics the experimental technique of optical tweezers. The NP Henry constant and the respective partition coefficient are calculated depending on the NP size and ligand composition at varying solvent quality. Our findings demonstrate that, with the decrease of solvent quality, the NP elution undergoes a transition from the size-exclusion mode with larger NPs having shorter retention time to the adsorption mode with the reverse order of elution. This transition, which occurs in a narrow range of solvent composition, signifies the so-called "critical" point of adsorption that strongly depends on the NP functionalization. The dynamics of NP axial dispersion in the isocratic and gradient elution modes is characterized employing a convective-diffusion model. We show that the NPs can be effectively separated by surface chemistry at the critical points of adsorption, using the gradient mode of interaction NP chromatography with controlled variation of the solvent composition.

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