Compression and Ordering of Hollow Microgels in Monolayers Formed at Liquid-Liquid Interfaces

NV Bushuev and RA Gumerov and AA Rudov and II Potemkin, LANGMUIR, 39, 12420-12429 (2023).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.langmuir.3c01648

Monolayers of polymer microgels with a spherical cavity adsorbed at the liquid-liquid interface were studied using mesoscopic computer simulations. One liquid, named water, was always considered as a good solvent, while the microgel solubility in the second liquid, named oil, was varied. The symmetric and asymmetric cases of vanishing and the strong differences in solubility between the network particles and the liquids were considered. The simulations provided us with an insight into the shape and volume changes of the microgels upon compression, making it possible to relate the response of the individual network with the collective order and structure of the monolayer. Similar to regular microgels, the compression of the monolayer of hollow particles led to a decrease in lateral sizes accompanied by shape transformation from a flattened to a nearly spherical shape. However, the presence of a cavity filled with solvent caused some unique differences in the behavior of the system. The adsorption pathway of hollow microgels at the liquid interface predefines: (a) the position of the particles with respect to the interface and (b) the structure of the monolayer. A striking discovery is that in the symmetric case of similar solubility of the microgel in both liquids, it is possible to produce a monolayer in which one part of the network faces the aqueous phase and the other part faces the oil phase. The polymer concentration profiles plotted along the normal to the interface reveal a redistribution of polymeric mass of the microgels relative to the interface, distinguishing between the microgels whose cavities are filled with water and oil, respectively. Moreover, the ratio between the microgels faced in water and oil does not change upon compression and predetermines the response and order of the monolayer.

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