Environment-dependent single-chain mechanics of synthetic polymers and biomacromolecules by atomic force microscopy-based single-molecule force spectroscopy and the implications for advanced polymer materials
“The Tao begets the One. One begets all things of the world.” This quote from Tao Te Ching is still inspiring for scientists in chemistry and materials science: The “One” can refer to a single molecule. A macroscopic material is composed of numerous molecules. Although the relationship between the properties of the single molecule and macroscopic material is not well understood yet, it is expected that a deeper understanding of the single-chain mechanics of macromolecules will certainly facilitate the development of materials science. Atomic force microscopy-based single-molecule force spectroscopy (AFM-SMFS) has been exploited extensively as a powerful tool to study the single-chain behaviors of macromolecules. In this review, we summarize the recent advances in the emerging field of environment-dependent single-chain mechanics of synthetic polymers and biomacromolecules by means of AFM-SMFS. First, the single-chain inherent elasticities of several typical linear macromolecules are introduced, which are also confirmed by one of three polymer models with theoretical elasticities of the corresponding macromolecules obtained from quantum mechanical (QM) calculations. Then, the effects of the external environments on the single-chain mechanics of synthetic polymers and biomacromolecules are reviewed. Finally, the impacts of single-chain mechanics of macromolecules on the development of polymer science especially polymer materials are illustrated.