Understanding the role of polymers on the nucleating behavior of water in dilute supercooled solutions

A Indra and M Bhendale and JK Singh, JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS, 159, 044502 (2023).

DOI: 10.1063/5.0153670

Understanding the nucleation behavior of water in dilute polymeric solutions is quintessential for the development of suitable artificial ice recrystallization inhibition (IRI) agents. Although poly(vinyl alcohol) (PVA) is found to be one of the most potent biomimetic IRI agents, the molecular understanding of the nucleation behavior of water in the presence of PVA is still lacking. Here, we use molecular dynamics to elucidate the role of concentration, degree of supercooling, degree of polymerization, and amphiphilicity of PVA and PVA-like polymers on the homogeneous nucleation of water in dilute polymeric solutions using the seeding method. Using classical nucleation theory (CNT), our simulations indicate an increase in the chemical potential difference between ice and melt that favors ice nucleation. However, it also predicts a significant increase in the ice-melt interfacial energy that impedes nucleation. The relative increase in the interfacial energy dominates the increase in the chemical potential difference, which results in a decrease in the nucleation rate of water with an increase in the solute concentration. This study contradicts the previous simulation study that suggested the promotion of homogeneous ice nucleation by PVA and supports the experimental observations of the heterogeneous origins of ice nucleation. Our results also suggest the non-classical origins of ice nucleation in polymeric solutions and the limitation of the CNT in predicting heterogeneous ice nucleation in polymeric solutions.

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