Computer Simulations of Polymer Gels: Structure, Dynamics, and Deformation

  • Datum:
  • Plats: Polhemssalen, Ångströmlaboratoriet, Lägerhyddsvägen 1, Uppsala
  • Doktorand: Kamerlin, Natasha
  • Om avhandlingen
  • Arrangör: Fysikalisk kemi
  • Kontaktperson: Kamerlin, Natasha
  • Disputation

This thesis presents the results of computer simulation studies of the structure, dynamics, and deformation of cross-linked polymer gels.

Obtaining a fundamental understanding of the interrelation between the detailed structure and the properties of polymer gels is a challenge and a key issue towards designing materials for specific purposes. A new off-lattice method for constructing a closed network is presented that is free from defects, such as looping chains and dangling ends. Using these model networks in Brownian dynamics simulations, I show results for the structure and dynamics of bulk gels and describe a novel approach using spherical boundary conditions as an alternative to the periodic boundary conditions commonly used in simulations. This algorithm was also applied for simulating the diffusion of tracer particles within a static and dynamic network, to illustrate the quantitative difference and importance of including network mobility for large particles, as dynamic chains facilitate the escape of particles that become entrapped.

I further investigate two technologically relevant properties of polymer gels: their stimuli-responsive behaviour and their mechanical properties. The collapse of core-shell nanogels was studied for a range of parameters, including the cross-linking degree and shell thickness. Two distinct regimes of gel collapse could be observed, with a rapid formation of small clusters followed by a coarsening stage. It is shown that in some cases, a collapsing shell may lead to an inversion of the core-shell particle which exposes the core polymer chains to the environment. This thesis also explores the deformation of bimodal gels consisting of both short and long chains, subject to uniaxial elongation, with the aim to understand the role of both network composition as well as structural heterogeneity on the mechanical response and the reinforcement mechanism of these materials. It is shown that a bimodal molecular weight distribution alone is sufficient to strongly alter the mechanical properties of networks compared to the corresponding unimodal networks with the same number-average chain length. Furthermore, it is shown that heterogeneities in the form of high-density short-chain clusters affect the mechanical properties relative to a homogeneous network, primarily by providing extensibility.