The electrostatic co-assembly in non-stoichiometric aqueous mixtures of copolymers composed of one neutral water-soluble and one polyelectrolyte (either positively or negatively charged) block: a dissipative particle dynamics study†
The electrostatic co-assembly in non-stoichiometric aqueous mixtures of diblock copolymers composed of a neutral water-soluble block and an either positively or negatively charged polyelectrolyte (PE) block has been studied by dissipative particle dynamics (DPD) simulations. The employed DPD variant includes explicit electrostatics and enables the investigation of the role of small ions in the co-assembly. The properties of core–shell associates containing insoluble interpolyelectrolyte complex cores and protective neutral shells were investigated as functions of the ratio of positive-to-negative charges in the system. This ratio was varied by increasing the number of positively charged PE chains of the same length as those of negatively charged chains, and by changing the PE length and charge density. The simulation results show that the associates formed in non-stoichiometric mixtures differ from those formed in stoichiometric mixtures: their association numbers are lower, their cores are charged and a fraction of excess chains remain free in the non-associated state. The study demonstrates the important role of the compatibility of the counterions with the polymer blocks. It simultaneously emphasizes the necessity of including the electrostatic interaction of all the charged species in the DPD computational scheme.