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Issue 22, 2015
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Inverted critical adsorption of polyelectrolytes in confinement

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What are the fundamental laws for the adsorption of charged polymers onto oppositely charged surfaces, for convex, planar, and concave geometries? This question is at the heart of surface coating applications, various complex formation phenomena, as well as in the context of cellular and viral biophysics. It has been a long-standing challenge in theoretical polymer physics; for realistic systems the quantitative understanding is however often achievable only by computer simulations. In this study, we present the findings of such extensive Monte-Carlo in silico experiments for polymer–surface adsorption in confined domains. We study the inverted critical adsorption of finite-length polyelectrolytes in three fundamental geometries: planar slit, cylindrical pore, and spherical cavity. The scaling relations extracted from simulations for the critical surface charge density σc—defining the adsorption–desorption transition—are in excellent agreement with our analytical calculations based on the ground-state analysis of the Edwards equation. In particular, we confirm the magnitude and scaling of σc for the concave interfaces versus the Debye screening length 1/κ and the extent of confinement a for these three interfaces for small κa values. For large κa the critical adsorption condition approaches the known planar limit. The transition between the two regimes takes place when the radius of surface curvature or half of the slit thickness a is of the order of 1/κ. We also rationalize how σc(κ) dependence gets modified for semi-flexible versus flexible chains under external confinement. We examine the implications of the chain length for critical adsorption—the effect often hard to tackle theoretically—putting an emphasis on polymers inside attractive spherical cavities. The applications of our findings to some biological systems are discussed, for instance the adsorption of nucleic acids onto the inner surfaces of cylindrical and spherical viral capsids.

Graphical abstract: Inverted critical adsorption of polyelectrolytes in confinement

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The article was received on 17 Mar 2015, accepted on 15 Apr 2015 and first published on 22 Apr 2015

Article type: Paper
DOI: 10.1039/C5SM00635J
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Citation: Soft Matter, 2015,11, 4430-4443
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    Inverted critical adsorption of polyelectrolytes in confinement

    S. J. de Carvalho, R. Metzler and A. G. Cherstvy, Soft Matter, 2015, 11, 4430
    DOI: 10.1039/C5SM00635J

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