Flow-Induced Formation of Thin PEO Fibers in Water and Their Stability After the Strain Release
S Donets and O Guskova and JU Sommer, JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY B, 124, 9224-9229 (2020).
Recently, we have shown that a tensile stress applied to chains of poly(ethylene oxide) (PEO) in water reduces the solubility and leads to phase separation of PEO chains from water with the formation of a two- phase region. In this work, we further elucidate the generic mechanism behind strain-induced phase transitions in aqueous PEO solutions with concentrations of 50-60 wt % by performing all-atom molecular dynamics simulations. In particular, we study the stability of oriented PEO fibers after removing stretching forces. We found that the size of the PEO bundle increased with time, which is associated with the dissolution of PEO chains on the fiber surface due to the reformation of hydrogen bonds between the outer PEO molecules and water. For precise characterization of the fibers, the scattering patterns (small- and wide-angle X-ray spectra) for configurations taken at different relaxation times are calculated. The tendency of the oligomer chains to be peeled off from the surface of the bundle eventually might lead to a complete dissolution of the PEO fiber. We conclude that either entanglement constraints or a quick drying process are necessary to conserve the fiber structure in a quiescent state. The scattering results show that external strain induced a liquid-liquid phase separation first. On long time scales, this can be a precursor for crystallization of the fiber.
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