Effect of particle polydispersity on the structure and dynamics of complex formation between small particles and large polymer†
The effect of particle polydispersity on the structure and dynamics of small silica particle–large polymer chain mixtures at low polymer concentration has been investigated. Two types of silica particles were used as model systems, having similar mean size, specific surface area and surface properties but differing substantially in size polydispersity. Mixtures of PEO with the polydisperse silica particles showed strong shear-thickening upon shaking, while mixtures of the same composition with the monodisperse silica did not. Fluorescence correlation spectroscopy revealed that larger flocs were formed in the polydisperse particle–PEO systems. Particle polydispersity was identified as the major factor accounting for these differences and a plausible mechanism was proposed based on the spatial distribution of the silica particles within the complexes. This work suggests that the rheological behavior of colloid–polymer mixtures can be dramatically modified by a simple change in particle polydispersity, rather than more involved surface modifications or the use of additives.