Revisiting the Dispersion Mechanism of Grafted Nanoparticles in Polymer Matrix: A Detailed Molecular Dynamics Simulation

JX Shen and J Liu and YY Gao and DP Cao and LQ Zhang, LANGMUIR, 27, 15213-15222 (2011).

DOI: 10.1021/1a203182u

By focusing on the grafted nanoparticles (NPs) embedded in polymer melts, a detailed coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulation is adopted to investigate the effects of the grafting density, the length of the matrix and grafted chains on the dispersion of the NPs. We have employed visualization snapshots, radial distribution functions (RDFs), the interaction energy between NPs, the number of neighbor NPs, and the conformation of the brush chains to clearly analyze the dispersion state of the grafted NPs. Our simulated results generally indicate that the dispersion of the NPs is controlled by both the excluded volume of the grafted NPs and the interface between the brushes and the matrix. It is found that increasing grafting density or grafted chain length leads to better dispersion, owing to larger excluded volume; however, increasing the length of the matrix chains leads to aggregation of NPs, attributed to both a progressive loss of the interface between the brushes and the matrix and the overlap between brushes of different NPs, intrinsically driven by entropy. Meanwhile, it is found that there exists an optimum grafting density (sigma(c)) for the dispersion of the NPs, which roughly obeys the following mathematical relation: sigma(c) is proportional to N(m)(K)/N(8)(L), where K, L > 0 and N(m) and N(g) represent the length of the matrix and grafted chain length, respectively. Considering the practical situation that the grafted brushes and the matrix polymer are mostly not chemically identical, we also studied the effect of the compatibility between the brushes and the matrix polymer by taking into account the attraction between the grafted chains and the matrix chains. In general, our comprehensive simulation results are believed to guide the design and preparation of high-performance polymer nanocomposites with good or even tailored dispersion of NPs.

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