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Effect of bidispersity in grafted chain length on grafted chain conformations and potential of mean force between polymer grafted nanoparticles in a homopolymer matrix.

  • Nair, Nitish
  • Wentzel, Nathaniel
  • Jayaraman, Arthi
Published Article
The Journal of Chemical Physics
AIP Publishing
Publication Date
May 21, 2011
DOI: 10.1063/1.3590275
PMID: 21599087


In efforts to produce polymeric materials with tailored physical properties, significant interest has grown around the ability to control the spatial organization of nanoparticles in polymer nanocomposites. One way to achieve controlled particle arrangement is by grafting the nanoparticle surface with polymers that are compatible with the matrix, thus manipulating the interfacial interactions between the nanoparticles and the polymer matrix. Previous work has shown that the molecular weight of the grafted polymer, both at high grafting density and low grafting density, plays a key role in dictating the effective inter-particle interactions in a polymer matrix. At high grafting density nanoparticles disperse (aggregate) if the graft molecular weight is higher (lower) than the matrix molecular weight. At low grafting density the longer grafts can better shield the nanoparticle surface from direct particle-particle contacts than the shorter grafts and lead to the dispersion of the grafted particles in the matrix. Despite the importance of graft molecular weight, and evidence of non-trivial effects of polydispersity of chains grafted on flat surfaces, most theoretical work on polymer grafted nanoparticles has only focused on monodisperse grafted chains. In this paper, we focus on how bidispersity in grafted chain lengths affects the grafted chain conformations and inter-particle interactions in an implicit solvent and in a dense homopolymer polymer matrix. We first present the effects of bidispersity on grafted chain conformations in a single polymer grafted particle using purely Monte Carlo (MC) simulations. This is followed by calculations of the potential of mean force (PMF) between two grafted particles in a polymer matrix using a self-consistent Polymer Reference Interaction Site Model theory-Monte Carlo simulation approach. Monte Carlo simulations of a single polymer grafted particle in an implicit solvent show that in the bidisperse polymer grafted particles with an equal number of short and long grafts at low to medium grafting density, the short grafts are in a more coiled up conformation (lower radius of gyration) than their monodisperse counterparts to provide a larger free volume to the longer grafts so they can gain conformational entropy. The longer grafts do not show much difference in conformation from their monodisperse counterparts at low grafting density, but at medium grafting density the longer grafts exhibit less stretched conformations (lower radius of gyration) as compared to their monodisperse counterparts. In the presence of an explicit homopolymer matrix, the longer grafts are more compressed by the matrix homopolymer chains than the short grafts. We observe that the potential of mean force between bidisperse grafted particles has features of the PMF of monodisperse grafted particles with short grafts and monodisperse grafted particles with long grafts. The value of the PMF at contact is governed by the short grafts and values at large inter-particle distances are governed by the longer grafts. Further comparison of the PMF for bidisperse and monodisperse polymer grafted particles in a homopolymer matrix at varying parameters shows that the effects of matrix chain length, matrix packing fraction, grafting density, and particle curvature on the PMF between bidisperse polymer grafted particles are similar to those seen between monodisperse polymer grafted particles.

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