Studying polymer solutions with particle-based models linked to classical density functionals: co-non-solvency
We demonstrate the potential of hybrid particle-based models, where interactions are introduced through functionals of local order parameters, in describing multicomponent polymer solutions. The link to a free-energy-like functional is advantageous for controlling the thermodynamics of the model. We focus on co-non-solvency – the collapse of polymer chains in dilute mixtures with two miscible good solvents, having different affinities towards the polymer. We employ a simple model where polymers and solvents are represented, respectively, by worm-like chains and single particles. Non-bonded interactions are captured by a polynomial which is third order in local densities and can, therefore, describe liquid–vapour coexistence. The parameterisation of the functional benefits from an elementary mean-field approximation to the statistical mechanics of the model. The model provides a framework for Monte Carlo simulations using a particle-to-mesh algorithm. Studies with conventional generic bead-spring and all-atom models have demonstrated that co-non-solvency is caused by preferential binding of the better solvent (termed cosolvent) with polymer. Hence, segmental loops bridged by cosolvent molecules are formed, initiating polymer collapse. The mesoscopic hybrid model differs conceptually from the conventional microscopic descriptions. Yet, it reproduces the same co-non-solvency mechanism supporting its universality. Films of adsorbed ternary solutions, showing co-non-solvency in the dilute regime, are considered at high concentrations. In this case, chains do not collapse. The properties of loops and tails of the adsorbed polymer agree with early theoretical predictions obtained for concentrated binary solutions.