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Two regions of microphase separation in ion-containing polymer solutions

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The phenomenon of spinodal decomposition in weakly charged polyelectrolyte solutions is studied theoretically within the random phase approximation. A novel feature of the theoretical approach is that it accounts for the effects of ionic association, i.e. ion pair and multiplet formation between counterions and ions in polymer chains, as well as the dependence of local dielectric permittivity on the polymer volume fraction Φ. The main focus is on the spinodal instability of polyelectrolyte solutions towards microscopic phase separation. It has been shown that increasing the binding energy of ions decreases the classical microphase separation region (possible at low polymer concentrations) due to the effective neutralization of the chains. A qualitatively new type of microphase separation is found in the presence of a dielectric mismatch between polymer and solvent. This new branch of microphase separation is realized at high polymer concentrations where ion association processes are the most pronounced. Typical microstructures are shown to have a period of a few nanometers like in ionomers. The driving force for the microphase formation of a new type is more favourable ion association in polymer-rich domains where ionomer-type behavior takes place. Effective attraction due to ion association promotes microscopic as well as macroscopic phase separation, even under good solvent conditions for uncharged monomer units of polymer chains. Polyelectrolyte-type behavior at low Φ and ionomer-type behavior at high Φ result in the presence of two critical points on the phase diagrams of polyelectrolyte solutions as well as two separate regions of possible microscopic structuring. Our predictions on the new type of microphase separation are supported by experimental data on polymer solutions, membranes and gels.

Graphical abstract: Two regions of microphase separation in ion-containing polymer solutions

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Publication details

The article was received on 06 Jul 2017, accepted on 04 Sep 2017 and first published on 04 Sep 2017

Article type: Paper
DOI: 10.1039/C7SM01340J
Citation: Soft Matter, 2017, Advance Article
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    Two regions of microphase separation in ion-containing polymer solutions

    A. M. Rumyantsev and E. Yu. Kramarenko, Soft Matter, 2017, Advance Article , DOI: 10.1039/C7SM01340J

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