Computational studies of shape control of charged deformable nanocontainers

NE Brunk and V Jadhao, JOURNAL OF MATERIALS CHEMISTRY B, 7, 6370-6382 (2019).

DOI: 10.1039/c9tb01003c

Biological matter is often compartmentalized by soft membranes that dynamically change their shape in response to chemical and mechanical cues. Deformable soft-matter-based nanoscale membranes or nanocontainers that mimic this behavior can be used as drug-delivery carriers that can adapt to evolving physiological conditions, or as dynamic building blocks for the design of novel hierarchical materials via assembly engineering. Here, we connect the intrinsic features of charged deformable nanocontainers such as their size, charge, surface tension, and elasticity with their equilibrium shapes for a wide range of solution conditions using molecular dynamics simulations. These links identify the fundamental mechanisms that establish the chemical and materials design control strategies for modulating the equilibrium shape of these nanocontainers. We show that flexible nanocontainers of radii ranging from 10-20 nm exhibit sphere-to-rod-to-disc shape transitions yielding rods and discs over a wide range of aspect ratio lambda (0.3 < lambda < 5). The shape transitions can be controlled by tuning salt and/or surfactant concentration as well as material elastic parameters. The shape changes are driven by reduction in the global electrostatic energy and are associated with dramatic changes in local surface elastic energy distributions. To illustrate the shape transition mechanisms, exact analytical calculations for idealized spheroidal nanocontainers in salt-free conditions are performed. Explicit counterion simulations near nanocontainers and associated Manning model calculations provide an assessment of the stability of observed shape deformations in the event of ion condensation.

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