Single-molecule studies reveal the distinction of strong and weak polyelectrolytes in aqueous solutions†
Polyelectrolytes are an important class of functional polymers that have the advantages of both polymers and electrolytes due to the presence of charges, and have prospective applications in many fields. The charge of the backbone is an important factor affecting the properties of polyelectrolytes. Therefore, the complex interactions caused by the charges in polyelectrolyte solutions pose a challenge to the study of polyelectrolyte systems, and there is no consensus on the distinction between the behavior of strong and weak polyelectrolytes in solution. Based on single-molecule force spectroscopy (SMFS), the distinction of strong and weak polyelectrolytes is clarified for the first time at the single molecular level by comparing the single-chain elasticity in different environments. It is expected that the single-molecule study will provide the theoretical and experimental basis for the further application of polyelectrolytes.