Ion Partition in Polyelectrolyte Gels and Nanogels

A Chremos and M Mussel and JF Douglas and F Horkay, GELS, 9, 881 (2023).

DOI: 10.3390/gels9110881

Polyelectrolyte gels provide a load-bearing structural framework for many macroscopic biological tissues, along with the organelles within the cells composing tissues and the extracellular matrices linking the cells at a larger length scale than the cells. In addition, they also provide a medium for the selective transportation and sequestration of ions and molecules necessary for life. Motivated by these diverse problems, we focus on modeling ion partitioning in polyelectrolyte gels immersed in a solution with a single type of ionic valence, i.e., monovalent or divalent salts. Specifically, we investigate the distribution of ions inside the gel structure and compare it with the bulk, i.e., away from the gel structure. In this first exploratory study, we neglect solvation effects in our gel by modeling the gels without an explicit solvent description, with the understanding that such an approach may be inadequate for describing ion partitioning in real polyelectrolyte gels. We see that this type of model is nonetheless a natural reference point for considering gels with solvation. Based on our idealized polymer network model without explicit solvent, we find that the ion partition coefficients scale with the salt concentration, and the ion partition coefficient for divalent ions is higher than for monovalent ions over a wide range of Bjerrum length (lB) values. For gels having both monovalent and divalent salts, we find that divalent ions exhibit higher ion partition coefficients than monovalent salt for low divalent salt concentrations and low lB. However, we also find evidence that the neglect of an explicit solvent, and thus solvation, provides an inadequate description when compared to experimental observations. Thus, in future work, we must consider both ion and polymer solvation to obtain a more realistic description of ion partitioning in polyelectrolyte gels.

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