Osmotic swelling behavior of surface-charged ionic microgels

MO Alziyadi and AR Denton, JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS, 159, 184901 (2023).

DOI: 10.1063/5.0161027

In recent years, ionic microgels have garnered much attention due to their unique properties, especially their stimulus-sensitive swelling behavior. The tunable response of these soft, permeable, compressible, charged colloidal particles is increasingly attractive for applications in medicine and biotechnologies, such as controlled drug delivery, tissue engineering, and biosensing. The ability to model and predict variation of the osmotic pressure of a single microgel with respect to changes in particle properties and environmental conditions proves vital to such applications. In this work, we apply both nonlinear Poisson- Boltzmann theory and molecular dynamics simulation to ionic microgels (macroions) in the cell model to compute density profiles of microions (counterions, coions), single-microgel osmotic pressure, and equilibrium swelling ratios of spherical microgels whose fixed charge is confined to the macroion surface. The basis of our approach is an exact theorem that relates the electrostatic component of the osmotic pressure to the microion density profiles. Close agreement between theory and simulation serves as a consistency check to validate our approach. We predict that surface-charged microgels progressively deswell with increasing microgel concentration, starting well below close packing, and with increasing salt concentration, in qualitative agreement with experiments. Comparison with previous results for microgels with fixed charge uniformly distributed over their volume demonstrates that surface- charged microgels deswell more rapidly than volume-charged microgels. We conclude that swelling behavior of ionic microgels in solution is sensitive to the distribution of fixed charge within the polymer-network gel and strongly depends on bulk concentrations of both microgels and salt ions.

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