Does freezing induce self-assembly of polymers? A molecular dynamics study

M Bhendale and A Indra and JK Singh, SOFT MATTER, 19, 7570-7579 (2023).

DOI: 10.1039/d3sm00892d

This work investigates the freezing-induced self-assembly (FISA) of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) and PVA-like polymers using molecular dynamics simulations. In particular, the effect of the degree of supercooling, degree of polymerization, polymer type, and initial local concentration on the FISA was studied. It was found that the preeminent factor responsible for FISA is not the diffusion of the polymers away from the nucleating ice front, but the increase in the polymer's local concentration upon freezing of the solvent (water). At a higher degree of supercooling, the polymers are engulfed by the growing ice front, impeding their diffusion into the supercooled solution and finally inhibiting their self-assembly. Conversely, at a relatively lower degree of supercooling, the rate of diffusion of the polymers into the supercooled solution is higher, which increases their local concentration and results in FISA. FISA was also observed to depend on the polymer-solvent interactions. Strongly favorable solute-solvent interactions hinder the self-assembly, whereas unfavorable solute- solvent interactions promote the self-assembly. The polymer and aggregate morphology were investigated using the radius of gyration, end-to-end distance, and asphericity analysis. This study brings molecular insights into the quintessential factors governing self- assembly via freezing of the solvent, which is a novel self-assembly technique especially suitable for biomedical applications. Using molecular dynamics simulations, we investigate the freezing-induced self-assembly (FISA) of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) and PVA-like polymers.

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