Nonmonotonic polymer translocation kinetics through nanopores under changing surface–polymer interactions

Neha Manohar, Robert A. Riggleman, Daeyeon Lee, Kathleen J. Stebe. The Journal of Chemical Physics (2024)


Understanding the dynamics of polymers in confined environments is pivotal for diverse applications ranging from polymer upcycling to bioseparations. In this study, we develop an entropic barrier model using self-consistent field theory that considers the effect of attractive surface interactions, solvation, and confinement on polymer kinetics. In this model, we consider the translocation of a polymer from one cavity into a second cavity through a single-segment-width nanopore. We find that, for a polymer in a good solvent (i.e., excluded volume, u0 > 0), there is a nonmonotonic dependence of mean translocation time (τ) on surface interaction strength, ɛ. At low ɛ, excluded volume interactions lead to an energetic penalty and longer translocation times. As ɛ increases, the surface interactions counteract the energetic penalty imposed by excluded volume and the polymer translocates faster through the nanopore. However, as ɛ continues to increase, an adsorption transition occurs, which leads to significantly slower kinetics due to the penalty of desorption from the first cavity. The ɛ at which this adsorption transition occurs is a function of the excluded volume, with higher u0 leading to an adsorption transition at higher ɛ. Finally, we consider the effect of translocation across different size cavities. We find that the kinetics for translocation into a smaller cavity speeds up while translocation to a larger cavity slows down with increasing ɛ due to higher surface contact under stronger confinement.