Simulation study of the effects of polymer network dynamics and mesh confinement on the diffusion and structural relaxation of penetrants

TW Lin and BC Mei and KS Schweizer and CE Sing, JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS, 159, 014904 (2023).

DOI: 10.1063/5.0148247

The diffusion of small molecular penetrants through polymeric materials represents an important fundamental problem, relevant to the design of materials for applications such as coatings and membranes. Polymer networks hold promise in these applications because dramatic differences in molecular diffusion can result from subtle changes in the network structure. In this paper, we use molecular simulation to understand the role that cross-linked network polymers have in governing the molecular motion of penetrants. By considering the local, activated alpha relaxation time of the penetrant and its long-time diffusive dynamics, we can determine the relative importance of activated glassy dynamics on penetrants at the segmental scale vs entropic mesh confinement on penetrant diffusion. We vary several parameters, such as the cross- linking density, temperature, and penetrant size, to show that cross- links primarily affect molecular diffusion through the modification of the matrix glass transition, with local penetrant hopping at least partially coupled to the segmental relaxation of the polymer network. This coupling is very sensitive to the local activated segmental dynamics of the surrounding matrix, and we also show that penetrant transport is affected by dynamic heterogeneity at low temperatures. To contrast, only at high temperatures and for large penetrants or when the dynamic heterogeneity effect is weak, does the effect of mesh confinement become significant, even though penetrant diffusion more broadly empirically follows similar trends as established models of mesh confinement-based transport.

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