Celebrating Soft Matter's 10th Anniversary: Topology matters: structure and dynamics of ring polymers
Considering topology among all polymer architectures polymer rings are unique, as they are the simplest closed structures without ends. In this review we present recent experimental advances addressing the structure and dynamics of rings. We focus mainly on neutron scattering results that reveal experimental insight on a molecular scale. We first briefly reflect on the progress in ring chemistry that made the experimental access possible. Structural investigations characterizing rings as compact objects in the melts are put into theoretical context. In contrast to the plateau regime common for all other high molecular weight polymer systems, the dynamic modulus of pure ring systems is characterized by a power law decay, while the viscosity displays a much weaker molecular weight dependence as a corresponding linear melt. The dynamics of ring melts is uniquely addressed by neutron spin-echo spectroscopy. The sub-diffusive center of mass motion at short times agrees well with simulation as well as theoretical concepts. In the internal dynamics the basic length scale of the ring molecule, the loop size, manifests itself clearly. The experiments reveal strong evidence for loop motions and call for further theoretical work describing them. Finally, small fractions of ring molecules in linear melts turn out to be very sensitive probes in order to scrutinize the dynamics of the host with the potential to reveal fundamental aspects of the dynamics of branched polymer systems.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Celebrating Soft Matter’s 10th Anniversary