Structure of Polymer-Grafted Nanoparticle Melts.
The structure of neat melts of polymer-grafted nanoparticles (GNPs) is studied via
coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulations. We systematically vary the degree of polymerization and grafting density at fixed nanoparticle (NP) radius and study in detail the shape and size of the GNP coronas. For sufficiently high grafting density, chain sections close to the NP core are extended and form a dry layer. Further away from the NP, there is an interpenetration layer, where the polymer coronas of neighboring GNPs overlap and the chain sections have almost unperturbed conformations. To better understand this partitioning, we develop a two-layer model, representing the grafted polymer around an NP by spherical dry and interpenetration layers. This model quantitatively predicts that the thicknesses of the two layers depend on one universal parameter, x
, the degree of overcrowding of grafted chains relative to chains in the melt. Both simulations and theory show that the chain extension free energy is nonmonotonic with increasing chain length at a fixed grafting density, with a well-defined maximum. This maximum is indicative of the crossover from the dry layer-dominated to interpenetration layer-dominated regime, and it could have profound consequences on our understanding of a variety of anomalous transport properties of these GNPs. Our theoretical approach therefore provides a facile means for understanding and designing solvent-free GNP-based materials.
Midya, J; Rubinstein, M; Kumar, SK; Nikoubashman, A
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