Solvent-induced immiscibility of polymer brushes eliminates dissipation channels

S de Beer and E Kutnyanszky and PM Schon and GJ Vancso and MH Muser, NATURE COMMUNICATIONS, 5, 3781 (2014).

DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4781

Polymer brushes lead to small friction and wear and thus hold great potential for industrial applications. However, interdigitation of opposing brushes makes them prone to damage. Here we report molecular dynamics simulations revealing that immiscible brush systems can form slick interfaces, in which interdigitation is eliminated and dissipation strongly reduced. We test our findings with friction force microscopy experiments on hydrophilic and hydrophobic brush systems in both symmetric and asymmetric setups. In the symmetric setup both brushes are chemically alike, while the asymmetric system consists of two different brushes that each prefer their own solvent. The trends observed in the experimentally measured force traces and the friction reduction are similar to the simulations and extend to fully immersed contacts. These results reveal that two immiscible brush systems in mechanical contact slide at a fluid-fluid interface while having load-bearing ability. This makes them ideal candidates for tribological applications.

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