Dispersion and Diffusion Mechanism of Nanofillers with Different Geometries in Bottlebrush Polymers: Insights from Molecular Dynamics Simulation

JJ Qu and QH Chen and WH Huang and LQ Zhang and J Liu, JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY B, 126, 7761-7770 (2022).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpcb.2c04389

The dispersion and diffusion mechanism of nanofillers in polymer nanocomposites (PNCs) are crucial for understanding the properties of PNCs, which is of great significance for the design of novel materials. Herein, we investigate the dispersion and diffusion behavior of two geometries of nanofillers, namely, spherical nanoparticles (SNPs) and nanorods (NRs), in bottlebrush polymers by utilizing coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulations. With the increase of the interaction strength between the nanofiller and polymer (epsilon(np)), both the SNPs and NRs experience a typical "aggregated phase-dispersed phase-bridged phase" state transition in the bottlebrush polymer matrix. We evaluate the validity of the Stokes-Einstein (SE) equation for predicting the diffusion coefficient of nanofillers in bottlebrush polymers. The results demonstrate that the SE predictions are slightly larger than the simulated values for small SNP sizes because the local viscosity that is felt by small SNPs in the densely grafted bottlebrush polymer does not differ much from the macroscopic viscosity. The relative size of the length of the NRs (L) and the radius of gyration (R-g) of the bottlebrush polymer play a key role in the diffusion of NRs. In addition, we characterize the anisotropic diffusion of NRs to analyze their translational and rotational diffusion. The motion of NRs in the direction perpendicular to the end-to-end vector is more hindered, indicating that there is a strong coupling between the rotation of NRs and the motion of the polymer. The NR motion shows stronger anisotropic diffusion at short time scales because of the steric effects generated by side chains of the bottlebrush polymer. In general, our results provide a fundamental understanding of the dispersion of nanofillers and the microscopic mechanism of nanofiller diffusion in bottlebrush polymers.

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