Shell–corona microgels from double interpenetrating networks†
Polymer microgels with a dense outer shell offer outstanding features as universal carriers for different guest molecules. In this paper, microgels formed by an interpenetrating network comprised of collapsed and swollen subnetworks are investigated using dissipative particle dynamics (DPD) computer simulations, and it is found that such systems can form classical core–corona structures, shell–corona structures, and core–shell–corona structures, depending on the subchain length and molecular mass of the system. The core–corona structures consisting of a dense core and soft corona are formed at small microgel sizes when the subnetworks are able to effectively separate in space. The most interesting shell–corona structures consist of a soft cavity in a dense shell surrounded with a loose corona, and are found at intermediate gel sizes; the area of their existence depends on the subchain length and the corresponding mesh size. At larger molecular masses the collapsing network forms additional cores inside the soft cavity, leading to the core–shell–corona structure.