Effect of surface properties and polymer chain length on polymer adsorption in solution

Emily Lin, Amalie L. Frischknecht, Karen I. Winey, Robert A. Riggleman. The Journal of Chemical Physics (2021)


In polymer nanoparticle composites (PNCs) with attractive interactions between nanoparticles (NPs) and polymers, a bound layer of the polymer forms on the NP surface, with significant effects on the macroscopic properties of the PNCs. The adsorption and wetting behaviors of polymer solutions in the presence of a solid surface are critical to the fabrication process of PNCs. In this study, we use both classical density functional theory (cDFT) and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations to study dilute and semi-dilute solutions of short polymer chains near a solid surface. Using cDFT, we calculate the equilibrium properties of polymer solutions near a flat surface while varying the solvent quality, surface–fluid interactions, and the polymer chain lengths to investigate their effects on the polymer adsorption and wetting transitions. Using MD simulations, we simulate polymer solutions near solid surfaces with three different curvatures (a flat surface and NPs with two radii) to study the static conformation of the polymer bound layer near the surface and the dynamic chain adsorption process. We find that the bulk polymer concentration at which the wetting transition in the poor solvent system occurs is not affected by the difference in surface–fluid interactions; however, a threshold value of surface–fluid interaction is needed to observe the wetting transition. We also find that with good solvent, increasing the chain length or the difference in the surface–polymer interaction relative to the surface–solvent interaction increases the surface coverage of polymer segments and independent chains for all surface curvatures. Finally, we demonstrate that the polymer segmental adsorption times are heavily influenced only by the surface–fluid interactions, although polymers desorb more quickly from highly curved surfaces.