Shape Transformations and Self-Assembly of Hairy Particles under Confinement

M Borowko and T Staszewski, INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MOLECULAR SCIENCES, 23, 7919 (2022).

DOI: 10.3390/ijms23147919

Molecular dynamics simulations are used to investigate the behavior of polymer-tethered nanoparticles between two inert or attractive walls. The confinement in pores creates new possibilities for controlling the shape transformation of individual hairy particles and their self- organization. We introduce a minimalistic model of the system; only chain-wall interactions are assumed to be attractive, while the others are softly repulsive. We show how the shape of isolated particles can be controlled by changing the wall separation and the strength of the interaction with the surfaces. For attractive walls, we found two types of structures, "bridges" and "mounds". The first structures are similar to flanged spools in which the chains are connected with both walls and form bridges between them. We observed various bridges, symmetrical and asymmetrical spools, hourglasses, and pillars. The bridge-like structures can be "nano-oscillators" in which the cores jump from one wall to the other. We also study the self-assembly of a dense fluid of hairy particles in slit-like pores and analyze how the system morphology depends on interactions with the surfaces and the wall separation. The hairy particles form layers parallel to the walls. Different ordered structures, resembling two-dimensional crystalline lattices, are reported. We demonstrate that hairy particles are a versatile soft component forming a variety of structures in the slits.

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