Self-Assembly and Critical Aggregation Concentration Measurements of ABA Triblock Copolymers with Varying B Block Types: Model Development, Prediction, and Validation

F Aydin and XL Chu and G Uppaladadium and D Devore and R Goyal and NS Murthy and Z Zhang and J Kohn and M Duttt, JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY B, 120, 3666-3676 (2016).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpcb.5b12594

The dissipative particle dynamics (DPD) simulation technique is a coarse-grained (CG) molecular dynamics-based approach that can effectively capture the hydrodynamics of complex systems while retaining essential information about the structural properties of the molecular species. An advantageous feature of DPD is that it utilizes soft repulsive interactions between the beads, which are CG representation of groups of atoms or molecules. In this study, we used the DPD simulation technique to study the aggregation characteristics of ABA triblock copolymers in aqueous medium. Pluronic polymers (PEG-PPO-PEG) were modeled as two segments of hydrophilic beads and one segment of hydrophobic beads. Tyrosine-derived PEG(5K)-b-oligo(desaminotyrosyl tyrosine octyl ester-suberate)-b-PEG(5K) (PEG(5K)-oligo(DTO-SA)-PEG(5K)) block copolymers possess alternate rigid and flexible components along the hydrophobic oligo(DTO-SA) chain, and were modeled as two segments of hydrophilic beads and one segment of hydrophobic, alternate soft and hard beads. The formation, structure, and morphology of the initial aggregation of the polymer molecules in aqueous medium were investigated by following the aggregation dynamics. The dimensions of the aggregates predicted by the computational approach were in good agreement with corresponding results from experiments, for the Pluronic and PEG(5K)-oligo(DTO-SA)-PEG(5K) block copolymers. In addition, DPD simulations were utilized to determine the critical aggregation concentration (CAC), which was compared with corresponding results from an experimental approach. For Pluronic polymers F68, F88, F108, and F127, the computational results agreed well with experimental measurements of the CAC measurements. For PEG(5K)-b-oligo(DTO- SA)-b-PEG(5K) block polymers, the complexity in polymer structure made it difficult to directly determine their CAC values via the CG scheme. Therefore, we determined CAC values of a series of triblock copolymers with 3-8 DTO-SA units using DPD simulations, and used these results to predict the CAC values of triblock copolymers with higher molecular weights by extrapolation. In parallel, a PEG(5K)-b-oligo(DTO- SA)-b-PEG(5K) block copolymer was synthesized, and the CAC value was determined experimentally using the pyrene method. The experimental CAC value agreed well with the CAC value predicted by simulation. These results validate our CG models, and demonstrate an avenue to simulate and predict aggregation characteristics of ABA amphiphilic triblock copolymers with complex structures.

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